If you’re a fan of the sitcom The Middle, you’ll remember the wonderful episode in which the family’s eccentric youngest son, Brick, starts a font blog. “If you can talk about fonts, you can talk to anyone,” he comments to his father. Brick acquires one reader, blogs for a few days, then loses interest. But on reading Brick’s farewell entry, his single reader is devastated — and that reader turns out to be Jimmy Kimmel. When an assistant interrupts his grieving to hold up his first prompt card, Kimmel comes close to exploding. “What is that?” he says. “Helvetica again? Can’t throw in any Century Gothic once in a while? What are we, animals?”
You can probably divide the world into people who care about fonts and people who don’t. I’ve always been aware of them and how they influence the way you process words: thick, bullying black fonts; distracting, ornamented ones; fonts with snooty, slender, elegant lines. That said, I suppose my preference for Times New Roman — I like the serif, and the varying thicknesses of the letters keep the eye engaged — marks me as boring and conventional.
So I was delighted, as I know Brick would have been, with the long lecture on fonts by a character called The Professor that begins Jordan Harrison’s Futura, now being staged by the Catamounts at the Nomad Playhouse, since the Dairy Arts Center, the company’s regular home, is unavailable. Harrison, who also writes for Orange Is the New Black, is obviously a font person. This lecture situates Futura and a handful of other fonts in their place and time, and talks about how their development entwines with the history of writing itself, from monks’ illustrated manuscripts to Gutenberg’s printing press to the changes of the digital age. We learn about Paul Renner, the German typographer who invented Futura in 1927, and the Nazis’ preference for Gothic Black Letter. Playing The Professor, Anne Sandoe delivers all this information with a nice clarity and a Germanic precision.
But periodically, The Professor’s assured manner falters. She tells us that all reading material — all knowledge — has been gathered into a single digital cloud, even “those pesky little libraries in our homes,” and we realize we’re in some undefined but near future. The Professor’s husband, Edward, has been taken away and murdered, and she herself is not free to speak as she wants. In Ray Bradbury’s famous novel Fahrenheit 451, literature was rescued from a book-burning totalitarian government when it was stored in the minds of hundreds of people who loved it. The Professor has a different solution, which she calls the “zero drive.”
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But suddenly she’s absconded by two black-clad figures — and just as suddenly, this smart, amusing play morphs into pure melodrama. The Professor is tied up. There’s an interrogation, conducted by a threatening leather-clad woman and a more peaceful young man, and a bit of slapping around. Hallie Schwartz is powerful — if just a touch too shrill — as the woman, inappropriately called Grace, and David French gives a fine, quiet performance as the man, Gash. A mysterious leader appears, played by the always convincing Ami Dayan, who adds a sense of groundedness and reality to the action. A gun is flourished. Someone dies. Someone else is wounded. All of this takes place in a shadowy room, the talk punctuated by loud, thumping music. Our Professor seems to have fallen into a heavy-metal movie, where the plot doesn’t quite cohere and the action is more amusing than frightening. Still, this may be deliberate, because the final scene, low-key and realistic, bookends well with the opening lecture, and, like that lecture, reaffirms the irrepressible power of language.
The Catamounts bills itself as theater “for the adventurous palate,” and the troupe has been linking the art of food preparation with the art of theater since its inception five years ago. On opening night, the company outdid itself with a Futura-inspired pre-show cocktail called The Milton (“Sing heav’nly muse,” says the program), a craft beer called Sans Noir Stout, and a post-show community meal from chef Nick Martinez that featured a choice between a Germanic spaetzle dish in honor of Paul Renner and a smooth pork preparation described, with its “clean modern lines” and “timeless depth,” as “what Futura might taste like.” Throughout the run, all Saturday-night performances will include drinks and a post-show spread as part of the ticket price, and a couple of other performances come with craft beer and/or specialty cocktails.
Here’s food for mind and body.