Sunday I saw “From the Deep,” a new play by Cassie M. Seinuk that’s being produced by Boston Public Works. It’s a vividly staged two-hander set not in any literal place or time but in the shared mental space of two different men being held captive for different reasons–an Israeli soldier held hostage by a Palestinian group, and a Boston college student kidnapped for reasons that aren’t made immediately clear. The captives’ situations are realistic–the Israeli, in fact, is based on Gilad Shalit–the only science-fictional element is the creation of the mental world shared by the two men.
Boston Spirit Magazine raved about the play:
Seldom has this reviewer seen a play set in a parallel universe, created entirely from the playwright?s imagination, transcend the genre of science fiction or the theater of the absurd. But like the best of Harold Pinter, that Nobel Prize-winning playwright, Seinuk and her cast and crew of this production have created a riveting theatrical experience. The audience not only clutches their seats to find out the final outcome of the two trapped men but also hangs onto their every sentence of dialog to learn how they come together to cope and hopefully overcome their similar yet totally different dilemmas.
… but dang, bro, can a reviewer ever mention science fiction (in any medium) without immediately disavowing it or explaining how the work under question “transcend(s) the genre”? “Transcend” is to art what “toleration” is to people. You don’t have to learn to “tolerate” a group if you really truly don’t think there’s anything wrong with them to begin with. An artist doesn’t have to “transcend” a genre if there’s nothing wrong with that genre to begin with.
But in the badly-remembered-by-me words of Kurt Vonnegut, “the science-fiction drawer is the drawer critics mistake for a urinal.”
Cassie’s review reminded me of something playwright Walt McGough wrote me when I contacted him about my presentation at Stage the Future. I was curious how audiences had responded to “Chalk,” a similar drama with two characters, a confining and obstacle-ridden set, and strong emotional content. Walt wrote:
One thing I definitely noticed, in the few reviews we got, was that all of the reviewers seemed to feel the need to lay the sci-fi side of things out up front, and take a stand on it, within the first few paragraphs. We got a lot of “I don’t usually like zombie stuff, but,” or “I’m not the audience for this because I don’t like sci-fi. That said…” So in a weird way, I felt like reviewers felt more of a need to apologize for the genre of the play than I (or the production team) ever did. Who knows if that’s just my biased perception, but it was definitely something present in all of the reviews.
SF! It stands for “science fiction,” not “sorry, folks.” It’s the 21st century and the geeks have inherited the earth. Let’s stop apologizing for it!