Fringe review: Enlightenment on E Floor North
Hancock-Brainerd's absurdist critique of his career as a museum security guard was, at times, awkward, funny, and oddly resonant.
GROUP: Strange Attractor
ATTENDED: Sun., Sept. 8, 5 pm, The White Space at Crane Arts Building
CLOSES: Sept. 18
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: “Strange Attractor examines the museum security guard, shedding light on the invisible American worker by playfully questioning the endless cycle of mindless work and revealing what actually happens when people pass the time while on the clock.”
WE THINK: Enlightenment on the E Floor North was conceived by Jed Hancock-Brainerd, who spent two and a half years working as a museum security guard before, evidently, transitioning to theater. It was a wise move. I never harbored museum guard aspirations before seeing Enlightenment, and afterwards, I have even less interest. But I did enjoy Hancock-Brainerd’s absurdist critique of the position, which was, at times, awkward, funny, and oddly resonant.
As a museum guard, one acts both within the group, and independently. One is a functioning part of the larger mechanism, professionally attired in standard guard apparel: white shirt, gray tie, blue blazer, khaki pants — and following standard guard protocol: stand straight, eyes forward, don’t move. Yet each cog in the machine is actually a human being, and that’s where the absurdity arises. The production begins with the ensemble cast (who are all very good, funny actors) singing in 4-part harmony, each note crisp and perfect, before breaking to assume positions. And standing. Silently. Unmoving. Until you notice, actually — that guy’s picking a wedgie! And she’s itching her nose. And so it goes, slowly, as moments of stasis are imbued with small amounts of meaning.
As the production continues, we tease out relationships between the guards (Mike’s the intimidating boss; Tucker’s the new guy) and watch as small occurrences — in the midst of complete nothingness—fester into obsessions. A jacket is thrown on the floor, picked up, thrown on the floor, and picked up again passive-aggressively. An arm-wrestling match leads to an epic showdown between guards, in which their ties morph into hissing snakes, attacking each other venomously. A mysterious cup of yogurt falls from the ceiling and everyone gathers ’round, gleeful and amazed. “I guess I’ll clean it up?” says Tucker, only to be shushed. “That’s the job of custodial,” they say.
There are times, during the long silences, that Enlightenment on the E Floor North feels tedious; laborious even. I get that that’s the point. But it also makes the few small moments of revelation — Tucker enacts a firefighter fantasy with an extinguisher; Dylan loses herself dancing to the wafting notes of the piano concert in the lobby — that much more satisfying. One can find enlightenment on the E floor north, if only one is willing to look beyond the routine.