Orlando Fringe 2022 Review: 'Gertrude Stein’s Not Sightly, a Play'

Most theatergoers prefer plays that at least make a small lick of sense.

Joseph Lark-Riley resurrects a 100-year-old unproduced play by the infamously obtuse early 20th-century poet Gertrude Stein as hyperpop puppet theater in Not Sightly, one of the more brain-bending pieces of performance art I’ve seen in many a Fringe Festival. Not Sightly went unstaged for a century for a very good reason, since most theatergoers prefer plays that at least make a small lick of sense. But Lark-Riley doesn’t let that stop him, as he presents the prose as a Greek tragedy performed by cardboard cutouts of iconographic statuary inside a towering pile of minimally animated framed dioramas, all set to upbeat electronica.

It's a good thing Lark-Riley grants his audience pre-emptive absolution from feeling like they are missing anything, because even with the explanation in the program I was utterly at sea. Sitting through Stein’s inscrutable tongue-twisting word salad is like listening to a solid 30 minutes of Lucky’s nonsense monologue from Waiting for Godot while watching day-glo paint dry. Except here you can’t even decipher the dialogue (much less attempt to decode its meaning), as his words are almost entirely overwhelmed by overuse of echoey audio effects and droning electronic feedback; constant noise from the bar next door doesn’t help matters any. Perhaps this experiment might be more effective as an art gallery installation, where viewers could escape for a respite and then return.

Stein once said of her own work, “If you enjoy it, you understand it.” I’m usually the first to applaud any avant-garde effort, but did I enjoy or understand this show? Not slightly.

Tickets and show info: Gertrude Stein’s Not Sightly, a Play

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