The great “man versus…” conflicts in literature have been: man versus man; man versus nature; man versus society; and, man versus self. Now, with the World Premiere of Cory Finley’s The Feast at the Flea Theater (directed by Courtney Ulrich), we can add another one to the list: man versus toilet. Man versus toilet? Really? How does this add anything to the great “man versus…” conflict discussion?
Well for one, it allows for comedy, that great breaker of categories. Not that this one lacks for drama either, but it’s drama couched against an increasingly absurd reality taking place within Matt (Ivan Dolido) and Anna’s (Marlowe Holden) apartment. Or rather, in their toilet. This allows for some very funny moments, starting with Matt, a painter (of art, not houses) who is bothered enough by the noises he is hearing in his toilet to complain to his very corporate girlfriend Anna, but not bothered enough to call the plumber to come fix them.
Instead it is Anna, the ever so practical and caring girlfriend, who calls the plumber (Donaldo Prescod), but neglects to tell Matt. When the plumber shows up at the door, Matt, wearing Anna’s navy blue silk robe, promptly gets into an argument with him about whether he should even be there at all. They come to an agreement, the toilet is “fixed” and Matt is ready to get back to his life, which, as he later affirms to his therapist is great. “Things could not be better!” he exclaims. The toilet has other plans.
To clarify, it’s not actually the toilet which is in conflict with Matt, but rather, the voices contained within the toilet, and the people (or is it creatures?) associated with them. (For those not scatalogically inclined, including this reviewer, don’t worry; this play doesn’t even go there.) The conflict moves from the toilet to Matt’s mind. It seeps into all of his relationships, beginning with the plumber, and moves on to his therapist, his agent, and finally a co-worker of Anna’s (all played by Donaldo Prescod). Also, not surprisingly, Anna and Matt end up having relationship difficulties.
Matt can’t understand why the voices exist, and he searches for guidance in the very place that the voices came from. He goes in, head first. Things begin to spin. There is a feast and a great painting; enlightenment and a misunderstanding. And then there is a storm. From all this, Matt is able to find middle ground between the toilet and the reality of his life. The voices have disappeared, for the time being. But the plumber may be needed again.
The play is concise, efficient, and humorous with a good dose of the fantastic. But it all comes together and engages. Donaldo Prescod was terrific at inhabiting the four different roles against Matt, and Ivan Dolido, as Matt, was very expressive in going through all of the emotions the toilet brought out in him. Marlowe Holden, the corporate suit, felt a little flat, but hers was the more challenging role, having to play the corporate stiff who was passionate about “deliverables.” A few staging oddities (such as not clearing wine glasses or the food) were more than offset by the set design, the scene delineations, and especially the way that the audience and actors engaged in looking at the paintings.
The press materials describe The Feast as “an eerie comedy,” but it is less eerie and more cautionary in a humorous manner. Sure, it is absurd to have voices talking from the toilet and going straight to Matt’s head. But haven’t we all heard voices in our head at some point (even if they were our own), and wondered who said what and what our reality really was? It can’t be too far-fetched, then, to imagine the voices coming from somewhere else, say, a toilet.
In the end, Finley has not really added a new genre to the “man versus…” conflicts. Instead, he has cleverly incorporated all of the conflicts (man versus man, versus nature, versus society, versus self), into one—man versus toilet—and has arrived at an ambiguous, but very tenable conclusion. At a running time of an hour, what more could you want in a play featuring a toilet with voices?
Photos by Bjorn Bolinder
1.Ivan Dolido, Marlowe Holden
2. and 3. Ivan Dolido
The Feast, which opened on Sunday, March 15, runs through April 6 at The Flea Theater.