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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
By David Avery
Philip K. Dick is famous for creating science fiction tales of dystopian futures, where the protagonist is forced to question his identity and concept of reality. His work has enjoyed an increase in popularity in the last few decades (sadly missed by him), most likely because his nihilistic vision of a dehumanized future rings true for many who have lived to see it. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is one of Dick's more respected works ( It won a John W. Campbell award for best SF novel in 1975).
Set in Los Angeles, it chronicles a few fateful days in the life of Jason Taverner -- singer, famous TV star (enjoyed by millions), and a "six." Sixes are a genetically modified human beings, designed to exceed "ordinaries" in all aspects: looks, ambition, strength, charisma. Technically they are outlawed, but several exist secretly in the depicted alternative earth of 1988.
After a mishap involving a disgruntled ex-conquest, he wakes in a seedy hotel room with his clothes, five thousand dollars, and no memory of how he got there. He discovers that everything he knew as "real" is different: now he is an unknown, there are no records of his existence, and he is in danger of being sent to a forced labor camp due to lack of identification. He sets out to get new ID and discover just what has happened to him and the reality he has lived in all his life.
The Evidence Room's restaging of its 1999 production of the play has taken this bleak and disconcerting situation and conceived it as a somewhat farcical look at a how a media star reacts when his favorite toy (celebrity) is taken away from him. It focuses more on the comic aspects of the story, and less on Dick's themes
Joe Fria's Taverner and Dorie Barton's Heather Hart are both introduced as "celebutants" (think Paris Hilton) who are spoiled and bored by wealth and fame. This is in keeping with the tone of the production, but sharply different than Dick's characters -- in the book, they act superior not because they're celebrities, but because they are superior (via genetic manipulation). They both share a secret that would ruin them if known.
Tony Maggio's Felix Buckman (the titular Policeman) is played as a buffoon of sorts, and his sister Alys (Tara Chocol) is portrayed as a drugged-out fetishist. Both go for an over-the-top feel, which again is in keeping with the play's overall tone, but detracts from the power of later revelations. The play's Jason, Felix, and Alys lack the depth (intentionally I suspect) of their counterparts in the novel.
The characters that work best are Liz Davies' Kathy Nelson and Lauren Campedelli's Ruth Rae, mostly because this adaptation suits their broad portrayal of the semi-sane forger/police informant and the pathetic, aging diva, respectively. In fact, Ruth Rae's discussion of grief and her story of the bunny are two of the only poignant moments in the play.
Bart DeLorenzo's direction is solid. He stays true to the vision of his production and moves the somewhat complex story along briskly using Linda Hartinian's nearly word for word adaptation of the book. The use of the back wall as a video screen allows for excellent touches of futurism. The narration by a character called "PKD" (Tom Fitzpatrick) does two things well simultaneously: it reminds the audience of the source material (it's as though we're being told a story), and of the movie "Blade Runner" (based on Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep). However, they've decided to dress up the narrator to look like William S. Burroughs for no apparent reason (perhaps because he is another modern writer who dealt with drug induced para-realities). It's distracting, as is the fact that he is miked while the rest of the cast is not, which leads to volume discrepancies so that the cast comes off as nearly screaming to be heard.
An interesting aspect of Philip K. Dick's writing is that he can imbue menace into things that should be comforting in their ordinariness. This production has eschewed menace for wackiness. Lorenzo writes in the program that they originally presented novel"as a fun, zany style game with more than its share of camp." He adds that "time has given Flow My Tears a sharper poignancy. The losses that haunt its characters gain a sympathetic weight in these bereft days." It struck me that the production lacks a lot of this promised weight.
The stark set by Sibyl Wickersheimer looks amazing. It uses sliding glass panels to represent changing spaces and locations, and suggesting an antiseptic future where even the walls can't hide you from the powers that be. Unfortunately, the glass also contributes to some of the volume problems.
Philip K. Dick's writing is given to noir interpretations, and Ann Closs-Farley and Miguel Montalvo have done homage to that by using a 1940s flair in a lot of the costuming, especially for Heather Hart and the Narrator. However, they've also fallen back on the standard big-shouldered, leather trench coats to remind the audience that we're dealing with a Nazi-like bureaucracy (note to future productions: we get it).
While the Evidence Room's Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said doesn't live up to the weightier themes of Dick's novel, it does backup it's stylized interpretation.
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