Reviews NYCOff-Broadway Published 29 September 2016

Review: Tomorrow's Parties

French Institute Alliance Française ⋄ 28th September - 1st October 2016

Molly Grogan considers the merits of future shock.

Molly Grogan
The future is already here. Photo: Elena Olivo

The future is already here. Photo: Elena Olivo

Along with death (a related topic, as we’ll see), “The Future” is another bugaboo that fill us with dread. Knowing our past (war, strife, cataclysms, genocide, natural disasters, plague) and the irresistibility of the seven deadly sins, we’d be Pollyanna’s to expect anything good to come – a suspicion that has been the stock in trade of science fiction. On the other hand, shouldn’t the steady trend of advancements in science, medicine, engineering, human rights, diplomacy and more, allow for the hope that we really can have that “better place” we always say the world should be?

Such are the battling tensions behind Tomorrow’s Parties, an uninterrupted stream of “future” scenarios proposed by Forced Entertainment, which makes its New York premiere in FIAF’s Crossing the Line. I’ve seen many productions by Tim Etchells’ Sheffield-based performance collective, but here, finally, the company’s name took on real significance. Anchored by two performers (Cathy Naden and Jeremy Killick) who stand simply on crates framed by strings of circus lights, the show is a 70-minute soap box of dystopian vignettes ranging from mass cannibalism to a mutant microbe takeover on a planet that is either mortally overcrowded or has lost all but a handful of its inhabitants. Taken individually, these scenarios provide a glimpse of a single aspect of how the world might become, and many could overlap in causal and a-causal ways (i.e. people might be forced to eat each other because the microbes have destroyed all agriculture, and still meteor showers could bombard the earth). But the overwhelming conclusion to draw is that the future is synonymous with our destruction. Millenials may as well throw in the towel now and turn up the air-conditioning.

Flippant? Absolutely. It would only take some tweaks of pacing and delivery to change genres from theater to stand-up comedy, making these Parties another fine example of the formal fluidity in which Forced Entertainment excels. Here, the trick is to find the right balance between frivolity and alarm, which Naden and Killick manage by calmly wiping out all of our hopes for tomorrow using a knowingly nonchalant register. Perched a little tightly on their makeshift platform, looking like they might be on their way to a casual evening and speaking in earnest tones, they seem an everyday sort of couple, albeit with a penchant for engaging in verbal one-upmanship. Some examples: She muses there will be no men in the future and women can procreate at will thanks to sperm banks; he counters that, yes, there will be only a few men, but they will be surrounded by women waiting on their every need. He imagines we’ll live a storybook version of the Middle Ages, slaying dragons and enjoying the fruits of happy peasants’ labor (nevermind who the “peasants” are); she thinks we’ll be working so hard that we’ll grow the tools we need as physical appendages, like screwdrivers for fingers. She believes there will be just five people left in the world; he’s sure there will only be two. And so on. In their game of “worst case scenario” that plays on the comic value of exaggeration, it gets so bad, it’s good.

It begs some important questions though, as well, that don’t stop at “how bad will it be?” but also ask what our priorities are for the world our children and grandchildren will know and what all of those fears (robots, clones, viruses, nuclear annihilation, climate catastrophe, etc., etc.) tell us about who we are and where we are today. Compared to alien invasions and suspended states of consciousness, one of the least chilling scenarios is the one we can probably subscribe to the most easily: in the future, there will be a terrible scarcity of resources creating masses of displaced people leading to the creation of very strong nations with strictly enforced borders. But what kind of a world is that to live in?

And if, hope against hope, the future will be bright? One consequence is that modern history will go down in the books as a dreadfully dark moment in human development. On that, our two speakers are in agreement; in the future, they warn, people will look back on the times we are living and feel overwhelming disgust and moral outrage. But here the circus lights begin to fade slowly and then abruptly go out.

So, welcome to Tomorrow’s Parties, a wry gathering in honor of the future, or really “the end,” hosted seamlessly by Forced Entertainment as both theater and political provocation. On the night I attended, a man in the audience drifted into a noisy sleep, as happens at even well-behaved fêtes. This elicited cascading laughter in the auditorium and on stage: just the kind of shared, live experience that Forced Entertainment wants to create in its examination of “the mechanics of performance and the role of the audience.” Like most parties, this one takes some time to put us at ease but once we get an idea of where the fun is to be had and where the deep discussions are going down, we can relax and enjoy the zombies.

Molly Grogan

Molly Grogan covered French and international theater for 20 years in Paris. She has written on theater for The Village Voice and American Theater and managed an Off-Broadway theater company. She is a translator of fiction and non-fiction with a Ph.D. in Francophone postcolonial literature and a Masters in social linguistics.

Review: Tomorrow's Parties Show Info

Directed by Tim Etchells

Written by Created and devised by Robin Arthur, Time Etchells, Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall, Cathy Naden and Terry O'Connor

Cast includes Jeremy Killick, Cathy Naden

Show Details & Tickets

Running Time 70 minutes


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