Pillbox

Bliss doesn't live up to its name

Senior acting major Kelsey Carthew portrayed engineer Rein in the School of Drama's production of Mikhail Bulgakov's Bliss, staged last week in the Rauh Theatre in Purnell. (credit: Photo courtesy of Jordan Harrison) Senior acting major Kelsey Carthew portrayed engineer Rein in the School of Drama's production of Mikhail Bulgakov's Bliss, staged last week in the Rauh Theatre in Purnell. (credit: Photo courtesy of Jordan Harrison)

After feeling trapped in a kaleidoscope at Studio 205 during one of the School of Drama’s productions last year, I was a little apprehensive about going to another show in which technology would be so heavily featured. I took comfort in the fact that it would be in the Rauh Theatre of Purnell — a quick getaway should I want to escape during intermission.

Unfortunately, Bliss had no intermission.

This play is about Rein, an engineer who invents a time-travel machine and accidentally teleports from Moscow in the 20th century to Moscow in the 23rd century with a geriatric apartment supervisor and a kleptomaniac. They end up in a classless, utopian society called Bliss, but conflict still arises as the trio of main characters explore the new world.

There are many achievements worth mentioning in this production. For one, it was a fairly successful attempt at comedy, a genre the School of Drama historically hasn’t explored too often. As always, the cast was incredibly talented; senior musical theatre major Annie Yokom (Bunsha) was especially delightful to watch.

The costumes demonstrated a stunning attention to detail that brought characters to life, and the dial-inspired stage design was a powerful, yet subtle, allusion to the theme of time. The choices to switch the genders of the characters and to integrate cast members into the physical setting were bold and effective.

Most importantly, though, there was a refined use of technology. Instead of distracting from or being the foundation of the show, the use of projections — with the exception of a few scattered instances that felt slightly forced — served to enhance the production by bringing the setting into the future.

Unfortunately, none of these redeeming factors could make up for the fact that, whether lost in translation from the page to the stage or butchered by cuts, the plot was an unbearable jumble. One minute, the audience watched pickpocket Miloslavskaya recite poetry for a party; the next, it suffered through a garbled scene of drunken tomfoolery. Transitions were completely lacking, which left performers charging through scenes as if they were walking through a swamp, focused only on getting out.

In his playbill note, junior dramaturg Jordan Sucher emphasizes the “machinery of society” as a construct in the play; however, while there are symbols of a totalitarian regime (e.g. everyone wore white in the future, and movements, including greetings and kisses, were rigidly defined) everywhere, the atmosphere created was anything but. Again, the mess of a plot made it impossible to enjoy the show.

Bliss began with the illusions of time and choice resonating as clear themes meant to criticize philosophies that “encourage people to follow blindly without thinking for themselves and without justifying their own actions,” as Sucher says in the program, and had all the right components to be successful. But as a result of the inherently poor script, it disintegrated into a mind-numbingly vapid romance that made no substantial commentary on past, present, or future society and only offered true bliss when it ended.