Empty Dreams and Themes
I suspect I'm in trouble when I'm told at the door that The Vow runs an hour and forty-five minutes without intermission. Is someone intending to put me through a transformational experience? I'm not very good at those. They tend to leave me helpless with laughter. Or are the creators just afraid the audience might bolt if given a chance? My fears deepen when I open the program and read Heidi Rose Robbins's director's notes: "As we search, we learn to open our hearts, to listen deeply and to cherish the searching itself. Then, if we are lucky, there is a crystal clear moment. There is a moment when it is impossible to do anything other than VOW to be truly WHO WE ARE."
Uh-oh. On the next page, husband-and-wife playwrights David Tresemer and Laura-Lea Cannon write that they have mingled "the resources of history, research, travel and meditation" for this theater piece. They talk about the Knights Templar and describe a medieval community known as the Cathars. They mention three themes they wanted to bring together and explore: history, modern technology and deep partnerships between men and women.
Okay, I tell myself, stay open-minded. These are resonant themes. And The Vow has been billed as a multimedia production. Sometimes movement, music and visual imagery can communicate truths that words can't.
The play begins. The set looks reassuringly professional and well proportioned. A dancer -- oops, an Angel Dancer -- descends on a swaying canvas swag. She moves with precision; she has strong, curved feet. All may yet be well. We're introduced to a group of office workers who seem to be creating some kind of computer game. Need I say, it involves images from the Middle Ages. There are dream sequences. Same images. Now we're inside a house. Turns out the dreams are those of the manager of the computer office and his wife. He sees himself as the Knight. She dreams she's being burned at the stake. They discuss this. She pleads with him to delay going to work until they've processed their dreams. He resists. She says things such as: "Are you finding anything?" He responds: "I feel that I'm being found" and "How can you do something about a dream that's 800 years old?"
Periodically, their teenage daughter contributes a comment about chat rooms or science projects. I'm sinking into a kind of torpor. Slides flash by -- some of them quite striking. The dancer on the swag moves about a bit, gestures in the direction of the actors. The words are endless, endless. The point seems to be something about the wife's ambivalence toward her work and the husband's toward his. Or perhaps his squeamishness about analyzing his feelings. Eventually, as we knew they would, they VOW to be TRULY WHO THEY ARE.
The Vow has been created by a group called the New Troubadours. Perhaps a couple of the Troubadour actors are talented. Michael Eberle periodically exudes a malign power as computer-scenario-obsessed Jerry; Matthew Korda gives a pleasant performance as his co-worker, Patrick; there are traces of life in Ashley Curtis's interpretation of the daughter, Rose. But it seems to me no one could do much with this mishmash of words or penetrate the script's overwhelming smugness.
The Vow is neither fish nor fowl. It lacks the evocative power of a good multimedia presentation, and it isn't really a play either. Joining chunks of historical fact, exhortation and new-age philosophizing together isn't making dialogue; putting a group of actors at the service of some vague spiritual teaching isn't creating character; and using dance, music and photography as thematic illustration rather than exploring their profound inherent possibilities isn't art.
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