Home > Arts and Entertainment > REVIEW: CAL REP’S “OUT OF THIN AIR”–A NOT-A-PLAY ABOUT THE PLAYERS–IS PERHAPS A BIT TOO INSIDE

REVIEW: CAL REP’S “OUT OF THIN AIR”–A NOT-A-PLAY ABOUT THE PLAYERS–IS PERHAPS A BIT TOO INSIDE

"IF I ONLY HAD A PLOT..."

BY GREGGORY MOORE

Be forewarned: this is not a play. I don’t mean that esoterically, like C’est ci n’est pas une pipe or something. I mean:  
this is not a play. To be sure, Cal Rep isn’t billing Out of Thin Air as a play; the press release labels it “out-of-the-box theatre unlike anything you’ve seen before” (a claim that’s overly bold, I’m afraid), but since it occupies a spot in its season and costs the same as a play, one might go unawares simply because Cal Rep is such an excellent company. In that case, you might be disappointed.
This “ensemble-based work, which evolved out of Viewpoints [acting] exercises” is, in short, an autobiographically artistic staging of scenes (actual and emotional) that shaped this crop of Long Beach State’s graduating MFA actors—particularly in terms of (what else?) why they became actors. Part of the problem: we already get it.

We’ve already heard the stories of how actors spent their childhoods longing to perform, of that first moment on stage where the applause did something to them, of the epiphany that their fantasy-world leanings could be put to a purpose-in-the-world. They’re legitimate stories, and surely they’re powerful to those who have lived them—they’re just not particularly self-sustaining as theater, even theater that clocks in at only a little over an hour. 

Except, perhaps, if you are a thespian. And this would seem to be Out of Thin Air‘s target audience: acting students—like the ones who comprised about half the audience Saturday night…the ones who have been taught by some of the very people on stage for the last time at Cal Rep (in this capacity, at least).

 Now I get it. Or some of it, anyway. Another problem of putting on this show for a general audience is that it seems very inside, like a joke about a family that makes sense only if you actually know the family members. That is the only explanation I have for the two “music videos” that were incongruous parts of the show. They seemed like car wrecks to me—but apparently this is some sort of acting exercise they do at Long Beach State. Perhaps if you’re all in the family it’s all quite funny.

It is a talented family. Two members of the Out of Thin Air cast—Jocelyn Hall and Arbër Mehmeti—appeared in Cal Rep’s magnificent staging of Current Nobody in November 2009, which I reviewed quite favorably in The District Weekly.

And there are moments in Out of Thin Air that are quite affecting, even if you haven’t “been there, done that” with the group. At times, the conceptualization employed in the conveyance of a given vignette does, indeed, make for compelling theater.

Maybe the best example comes in the form of a teenaged Mehmeti despairingly singing in the dark while taking shelter under a table as war-torn Kosovo rages outside. It’s the kind of moment that let’s you know just how much talent there is in the Royal Theatre just then. Unfortunately, the moment is all too ephemeral.

So if you’re wanting a play, this is one time to skip Cal Rep. But if you’re interested in getting an insider’s view of life in a powerhouse MFA program and a crafted glimpse into the backstory of the actors who comprise it, you’ll probably never do better than this.

OUT OF THIN AIR • THE ROYAL THEATRE ABOARD THE QUEEN MARY • 1126 QUEENS HWY • LONG BEACH 90802 • TUE-SAT 8PM; SAT 2PM • $20; $16 for students, military, and people older than 54 • THROUGH MAY 15 • WWW.CALREP. ORG • (562) 985-5526

"IF I ONLY HAD A PLOT ..."

BY GREGGORY MOORE

"IF I ONLY HAD A PLOT..."

BY GREGGORY MOORE

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