All credit to the director and actors of How To Get Into Buildings, the new play at the Brick. Without Katherine Brook’s relentless, searching direction and the game performances of her six performers, Trish Harnetiaux’s new show could have been less the fireball catastrophe that (I think) it wants to be, and more an interminable mash of free associative gobbly-gook. That reads meaner than I intend it to though. I liked the writing, I swear, I did. And I enjoyed this show. Why? Well, let’s try to figure that out together.
First, the basics of the story: there’s a car crash, two bodies, some red snapper. There’s a convention center, a diner, and “other places that are harder to articulate but sure to exist.” There’s one couple that meets-cute, another couple that splits-bloody. There’s TED talks, time travel (or “time travel”…just assume quotations for most of this paragraph’s nouns), waiters who are doctors (or vice versa), and a firefight at dusk in The Old West. You’d benefit yourself as an audience member by going in with a little knowledge about the Silver Surfer (yes, the Herald of Galactus). Narrating throughout is a guy (Jess Barbagallo) who’s written a book about the travails of the two couples, and who may be the actual author of their existence. The book is called The Car Crash and it ends in a shootout.
We’re deep in Brick territory here, as well as New Georges, the producing company. As such, it’s safe to say the onslaught of roundabout language will lose you from time to time. Or throughout, maybe. And with a less talented team, it might have all been a mess. Luckily, Brook keeps the scenes shifting, and the actors in engaging juxtaposition so that the eyes are never bored, even if the ears and mind are perplexed. As for the actors, Jacob A. Ware is laser-focused as comic book nerd/motivational speaker Roger. Kristine Haruna Lee as Lucy is a delight of facial tics and oddness, like if Jess from New Girl found herself in a David Lynch movie. (At one point she portrays a fish, and is swell at that too). Daphne (Stephanie Weeks) eventually opens up with a barn-burning monologue, and her bitter lover Nick (Mike Iveson) is nice and slimy. Barbagallo and Tina Shepard aren’t given as much to do, though Barbagallo is physically all over the place as the man narrating/orchestrating the action. In a show that explicitly desires piecemeal clarity, the cast keeps certain moments recognizably human, whether it’s an argument in a diner or the discomfort of two neurotic people in the first stages of romance.
So it’s about romance, I caught that much. It’s about love and how love (or love lost) is articulated. But articulation, or lack thereof, doesn’t necessarily impart feeling. Harnetiaux tell us in the notes that the play is inspired by the exploded view. Think a bike diagram where all the parts are separate but in positions indicating their proper place. Here though, it occasionally seems that the wheel is where the seat should be, and the brakes have been forgotten altogether.
Not that that’s a bad thing, necessarily. It’s just awkward, confusing. Like a car wreck. By the end you do get an impression of what it’s all about, if not a fully constructed idea. Since the lights go dark amidst the sound of dueling gunshots, one might assume that not everything can be articulated with words. Sometimes the articulation of love is just sound and action. The object in an exploded view never becomes the object itself, after all. In this case, the object of the play is for the audience to put together.
How To Get Into Buildings, now playing at The Brick (579 Metropolitan Avenue), tickets $18. December 17 at 8pm, December 18 at 4pm and 8pm, December 19 at 8pm