I AM I – Review from Amsterdam.

Here is a review excerpt of Orange Tea Theatre’s production of Mike Czuba’s I AM I.
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“Dating in the Postmodern World.” by Lucian Tion

…Remember those times you’d buy her a bouquet of flowers and later go for a stroll together through the dim-lit city streets? Or take her to a movie and slowly work your way around her shoulders? Remember the slow pacing of the courtship, and how overcome with anticipation you’d get at the thought of seeing her again… a week later? Or my favourite: remember sending her an audio tape compilation and waiting for days to hear what she thought of it? Well those times are all gone. Speed dating is not only a name for shallow ego competitions positing themselves as human interaction, they are a way of life. Or should I say – way of love?

The characters in Mike Czuba’s new tragi-comedy “I am I” may state in frustration that they hate postmodernism, but the show owns its very appeal to this fragmented, and yet strangely cohesive genius of narrative that brings together in a hodgepodge of at times entertaining, at times disquieting instances two highly neurotic (and charismatic) leading men in perpetual pursuit (and pullback) from an equally attractive, yet strangely evanescent leading lady.

…Through a web of dialogue as intricate as that of screwball comedy, yet real enough to send the message home to a majority of the men and women in the audience, the excited cast under Lora Mander’s thoughtful direction are able to capture the angst, hope, desperation, and inevitable disorientation that characterizes that which we don’t want others to see: the fragility of our souls under the carefully wrought shells we present to the outside world.

The action is structured simply enough if we are to follow the reference points of the classical narrative: boy meets girl, likes her, asks her out, gets into an argument, girl leaves, both have second thoughts, see each other again. It’s not the storyline however – if this was not evident so far – that captures one’s fancy in “I am I”. The show is rather a collection of footnotes – those footnotes that amalgamate themselves into our brains in moments of high tension (and there aren’t few of them in this show) which give birth to an entire second act of the mind – if you will – a none-too-unreal second self which follows our every step and criticizes our every action.

But criticizing is maybe not the right word. For at times the two male protagonists engage in mutually constructive dialogue that makes the show progress regardless (or despite) the presence of the object of both of their affection. And this may be a point of contention that feminist critics might bring up against the playwright: is the female character developed enough in order to be credible? Written from an obvious androcentric point of view (there are two of him and only one of her), the show does seem to give the male side of the couple the upper hand if not in final outcome at least in the deliberation moments – which are the pulp of the story after all.

…After an hour long tour de force which pits the two sexes against each other but also the brain against itself, one might come out with readings as varied as there are spectators in the audience (and to my pleasant surprise the show had a full house). For me a troubling thought remained: are we, endowed with the ability to judge ourselves and others not becoming our own worst enemies?

As it befits any quality theatrical production, “I am I” is far from providing answers to these slightly terrifying questions. However, one thing it does do, and I can safely say that it does so well: it begins to point us, postmodern lost souls of uncertain provenance and outcome, definitely in the right direction.

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