In a world that inadvertently drives everyone to insanity, holding on to that precious strand of normalcy can be pretty challenging, disregarding, of course, the fact that even the very definition of normalcy is also open to question.
In the play Hate Restaurants by Australian playwright David Finnigan, the predicament of the character Toby as she confronts all the characters who are in the verge of dementia or already enmeshed within its webs plays the central theme.
I was honestly unable to comprehend at first the direction the play is heading during the first few minutes. I thought I was being led to expect something close to a deconstructionist, structuralist, or simply a surreal theatrical presentation that will go into the dangerous waters of exaggerated profundity, an act too perilous as to try to be more intelligent than the audience, considering that first and foremost art must be enjoyed, not to be dissected as if it is a piece of cadaver awaiting for an autopsy.
But as the play progressed, in fact it is rather long, an hour based on my estimate, the characters are allowed to unveil their true identities and there under the glaring spotlight the character’s static identities are exposed. Each has his or her simple cartoonish complexities, each representing a kind or personality devoid of any any possibility to develop into a mature character that the audience can sympathize with; each is placed inside a box, and remains boxed until the play’s conclusion.
Simply put, each of them seems to represent a specific mental illness in a psych ward. A class reunion of used-to-be-patients of mental institution showing some recurring symptoms of their illnesses every now and then – the bipolar Toby, Cyclothymic Lucille, mildly autistic Billy suffering from episodic hypomania, schizoid (or simply inebriated) Louise, anorexic leader of the Little Friends of Science, and the probably-bulimic assistant to the leader of the Little Friends of Science.
Not to belabor the point, all the characters lack pathos and poignancy.
A friend pointed out that the reason of its complexity is the fact that it has a middle-class sensibility, the members of this class being more psychologically complicated than the rest of the population. But it’s quite hard for me to agree with this view simply because all of the characters, except for the members of the Little Friends of Science that transcend class categorization, are members of the working class. In fact all of them are overworked, including the owner of the restaurant Lucille, a fact that can explain the absurdity of their actions. Moreover, this play, written by an Australian using his country’s realities as a vantage point, is simply too detached from an Aussie middle class experience.
It is a complexity that went out of control, I believe. For a one-act play, the characterization fails to support the apparent simplicity of the plot. It is too much of this that made the play seems bloated and the audience, as a result, became incontinent by the play’s end.
My professor in Literature, Dr. Leoncio Deriada, in UP once mentioned in our class that incomprehensibility does not make a piece of work inferior. I beg to differ.
Oh I failed to mention, Billy the Rat, has the most profound character development in the story; from a lowly, decapitated, big, black rat to a cute, docile looking rodent in the end.
Hate Restaurants is a one-act play featured in the Writers’ Bloc Virgin Labfest V sponsored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It is staged in Huseng Batute Theatre. Virgin Labfest runs from the 23rd of June until the 5th of July 2009.