don't feed the bear - Brown Box Theatre
don’t feed the bear – Brown Box Theatre
Review by James Wilkinson
don’t feed the bear is presented by Brown Box Theatre. Written and performed by Cam Torres. Directed by Alex Lonati. Lighting Design by Connor O’Brien.
Brown Box Theatre’s new production, don’t feed the bear, tells the story of Will. Or rather, it would, but Will doesn’t exist. Except that he might exist. By the end of the play it certainly seems like he might exist and I think I can build a pretty convincing case that he does. That might be a misdirection though, much like the laptop he’s working on. Let me explain. The laptop exists, but it’s not real. None of this is real. You might want it to be real, but that’s too bad. None of this is real. That much you can know for certain; none of this is real. None of this is necessary. The title of the show isn’t even relevant to what’s happening on stage. (Except that I think it might be...)
Confused?...Stay with me…
Perhaps a better description of don’t feed the bear’s plot is to simply say that a character begins talking. Cam Torres’ play (which he performs himself) is a monologue that takes its cues from the format of one-person shows and adds more than a healthy sprinkling of awareness on top. As the audience enters the theater space, our main character (who we’ll eventually learn is Will), is already sitting on stage in what could be a living room set, typing away on a laptop. After a brief pre-show speech where the announcer forgets the name of the play (to the chagrin of Will), Will addresses the audience directly, mentioning that he’s waiting to see if an ex accepts his friend request on Facebook. The audience settles in and it seems that for the next hour, we’re going to be given a glimpse into this character’s world.
Except, that’s not what happens. Not at first, anyway.
You see, almost immediately Will doesn’t so much breaking the fourth wall as bulldozes straight through it. Right after telling us about waiting to see what happens with the friend request, Will then drops the ruse and tells us that no, that’s not true. He can’t be waiting for his ex’s friend request because his ex doesn’t exist. He made him up for our benefit. In fact, the laptop that he has in front of him isn’t even on. It’s one of a number of false starts that populate much of the monologue. The character keeps offering up anecdotes about himself only to then confess that he was lying and laugh at the fact that we ever believed him. He also goes to great pains to point out to us just how artificial the parameters of the theater space are. How the shadow of a window that stretches across the floor is just a lighting trick. How there is no “rest of the house” surrounding this living room set. How the couch that he’s sitting on isn’t really his couch. He even takes the time to point out how meaningless the title of the play is as there will be no bears crossing the stage at any point in the show.
It’s hard then, to adequately write about my feelings on don’t feed the bear because I think there’s an odd paradox sitting at the heart of the show that’s preventing me from coming down on it one way or the other. On the one hand, I almost immediately found the levels of awareness that the show traffics in to be extremely irritating. Even the audience members who at the start were tickled by the meta-humor of it all eventually seemed to become a bit unmoored. There are so many false starts and “just kidding” moments that you soon you’re unable to relax because at any moment you’re waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under you. And there’s a perpetual air of smugness surrounding Cam Torres’ Will as he sneers at the audience for believing what he’s saying. At one point he begins to wonder if his play is just a pale imitation of the story of Thom Pain then wonders if anyone present knows who Thom Pain is. I was itching to scream “It’s a play by Will Eno” and somehow managed to hold my tongue.
On the other hand, as frustrating as I may have found the lead character, I’m also forced to concede that I think his abrasive nature is part of the point of the show. Really, this is a play that’s concerned with connection. How it’s achieved. How it’s maintained and the social rules that prevent us from getting close to other living things (like the one about not feeding the bear). And it’s a rather bold choice that Torres makes to tell this story with a character that the audience can’t immediately align itself with. I can admire and appreciate that he’s setting that challenge for himself. Despite Will’s best attempts to refrain from revealing himself, a portrait does begin to emerge if you start to read between the lines. This character has to lie about the relationships in his life because there aren’t any for him to actually talk about. The sweats he wears are less a fashion choice and more the first sign of clinical depression. This character isn’t leaving his house and may actually be suffering from extreme loneliness. His lashing out is a defense mechanism.
Or maybe it’s all bullshit. That’s the problem. I’m not really sure if I’m reading too much into it. don’t feed the bear appears to end on a genuine moment of earnestness, but because of how many times we’ve been tricked leading up to that moment you half expect to hear someone yell “Gotcha!” as you leave the theater. In a very strange sort of way, the play is just like its lead character. It wants to make a connection with us, but it’s getting in its own way.
don’t feed the bear was presented by Brown Box Theatre March 15-17, 2019 at Atlantic Wharf in Boston and March 22-24, 2019 at Ocean City Center for the Arts in Ocean City.
For tickets and more information, visit their website: www.brownboxtheatre.org