ANYTHING GOOD MAKES ME WANT TO DIE review
Exciting, original student work is finally happening at Carnegie Mellon — it's just a little hard to find. The School of Drama and Scotch'n'Soda very occasionally stage new plays, but there seems to be no place devoted to fully-fledged productions of original work. Where are we to go on campus to find artistic innovation? Away from it.
Last Saturday night in a multipurpose building in Wilkinsburg, handwritten, misspelled signs guided the way from the entrance down hallways and up an elevator to The New Modern Product Theatre's debut new work, ANYTHING GOOD MAKES ME WANT TO DIE, an adaptation of two short stories from "Homesick for Another World" by author Ottessa Moshfegh (My Year of Rest and Relaxation). The New Modern Product Theatre is a new student-run company on campus, aiming to create all-original works and adaptations. Their first showing was adapted and directed by Pria Dahiya (School of Drama Directing, '24) with dramaturgy and script development by Rowan Dunlop (School of Drama Dramaturgy, '24), and was a no-budget hour-long performance with a cast of five which transformed the white-walled acoustic-tiled conference space into a personal hellscape (or limbo) for two suicidal weirdos.
Featuring trash bags plastered over the windows, a few pieces of furniture, a handful of powerful colored LEDs, and a small CRT television that played cartoons, color tests, game shows, and at one point, an episode of Law & Order, the minimal set helped emphasize the depression in both of the central characters' lives. The first piece, "Malibu," featured Johnny, a knock-kneed, whining man with no money, an overbearing uncle, and a persistent rash.
Johnny traveled back and forth from his room with a tangled mess of sheets on an air mattress (in one scene, in a visit to a clinic for his many medical problems, a nurse asked him how often he washed his sheets. "All the time," he nervously responded, before turning out to the audience and loudly announcing "I LIED") to his uncle's apartment, his only living family, who lay immobile in a large armchair, where he wore a huge, overinflated fat suit that was covered in old food. Johnny's struggles with the gap between his perception of himself and his reality were realized in the disparity between his well-spoken, confident narration of events, and the depiction of his demeanor when interacting with others. One particularly strong moment featured a recording of his voice describing a self-help book he was planning on writing (with advice like: "if your face is puffy, fill your mouth with coffee grounds!") while Johnny himself had a panic attack writhing around in his dubiously clean sheets. Despite living at rock-bottom in a state of self-delusion, he found his way out after meeting Terri, a woman who shows him the first affection he's ever had, inspiring him with confidence and uniting his vision of reality with reality itself. Although not the most original plot, the conception, execution, and powerful acting compellingly welcomed me in to his life.
The second piece, "The Weirdos," took place in a small apartment complex where an unnamed woman lived with her boyfriend and prayed for one of their deaths — never mind which one. Plagued by the constant cawing of "Egyptian crows," as named by her strange boyfriend, she passed each day sitting by the pool, or standing on the edge of the concrete roof, staring into the distance. This story was characterized less by the stark, block-color lighting of "Malibu," and more by bird chirps, heavy vaporwave synths, and soft New Age-y choral chanting. She drifted passively through each day, speaking only with her boyfriend, an eccentric named Moon Kowalski, and a large crow that hovered in the background. While I felt the acting was still strong, the general tone of apathy and listlessness failed to capture my attention as much as "Malibu" did.
Though these characters might inspire pity or disgust at first, the production captured an element of grace and beauty in both of their lives. After the death of his uncle, Johnny left us with the parting words, "Nothing can be ugly anymore. Not even if I wanted it to be." I believe him.