albatross imagereviewed by CompoundArt
Edinburgh Fringe 2016

My focus is on scriptwriting and production elements that demonstrate some particular attributes of Compound Art theory or construction so you must seek elsewhere for plot summaries and more general production details.

                                                                                                     rating 4.5 out of 5

The script for this play, written by Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett and directed by Rick Lombardo of The Poets Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA in response to “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, incorporates one of the defining elements of Compound Art, the conscious merging of two separate lines of intention. Think of it as two different forces coming at each other from different angles that merge to form a new single force plunging off as a new direction. “Albatross” was crafted at that explosive point of contact and what we, the audience, take away from this theatrical production is an exciting new vector.

Coleridge’s poem consists of an old sailor telling the story of how he survived his punishment for the sin of killing an albatross, the naval equivalent of a lucky charm. In Victorian language, plush with embellishment and imagery Coleridge described one of the many confessions this elderly wanderer inflicted upon passing strangers in an attempt to expiate his guilt. In the process the poet makes manifest what the post-Freudian world has come to recognize as the repetition compulsion.

In Coleridge’s poem this sailor’s story is universal. He is a man who like so many of us does something impulsively that has dire and unexpected consequences for other people. Though he survived, two hundred other sailors died because he killed that bird. Add survivor guilt to his burden of sin. For the poet the nameless Mariner is never particular. He stands in for the Romantic’s shared preoccupation with the Industrial Revolution’s disastrous impact upon Nature, both physical and cultural.

If Spangler and Evett had been simply updating or adapting this poem they might have revisioned this character a steel baron or an Exxon middleman but their obvious intention, their vector if you will, is not environmental but psychological. They put the individual center stage and try to demonstrate what might have driven the mariner to kill that bird. They ask the very question that on some very real level they also believe is unanswerable. Why?

This new story is about a man who has failed at the basic tasks of manhood—the creation and support of a family. The best he can do is pull his feckless nephew from drowning only to have him die of thirst along with all the other sailors on that doomed ship.

The scriptwriters don’t ever press directly into what others might have seen as a logical expansion of this backstory to represent the contemporary proliferation of random acts of inexplicable violence; their focus is always upon a particular man. Spangler and Evett have, however, put a different game into play. They demonstrate how the ancient man and the modern man are one—that the concerns of the external environment and the inner mind of man are inseparable. What we know about one will always inform what we know about the other.

This intention to link the external with the internal is made very clear in the very first moments of the play when the person Evertt inhabits is not a ruined mariner, or a failed father, or a environmental rapist but is simply what he is, an actor who is late coming on stage, who scrambles his lines and bumbles the installation of the set. Only slowly and imperfectly does he merge into the drunk, the father, the mariner, the poet, the killer, the repentant. One character loses his way in the other until there is no single character but a single blurred image compounded from series of nearly translucent images superimposed upon each other. He is all things and he is almost nothing.

We are not encouraged to like this mariner or weep for him though we do without any particular self-consciousness as the playwrights meld vulgar tar-cant, the complexities of Coleridge, and queries posited by current cultural critics into a new diction for a new man who is simply complex.

Both the script and the production fully reward our attention.