City Light’s exploratory political play Aphrodisiac is certainly unique and though not totally off-the-wall experimental, I will say it does require some focus and work on your part as an audience to stay with the more abstract devices it employs for storytelling. This will be a particularly difficult play to review and still adhere to my no spoiler rule, but in all fairness I’d be remiss if I didn’t provide a heads up with regard to some of the format and content details.
Two characters play several roles and the transitions from role to role are not always black and white. In fact nothing in this play really is and that’s certainly one of the clearer points it makes. The whole of it lies in the gray area and requires your gray matter to decipher who is actually speaking and if they are speaking truth, filibustering, flat-out lying or perhaps just testing a theory out loud.
I was a bit lost for the first couple of character transitions as delayed or no costume change added to the confusion. To be honest although the acting was good, the characters dialogue were really too similar from scene to scene to indicate a change had occurred. Aside from being called a new character name as an indicator, I felt by the time I realized two different characters were speaking I had already missed something critical. It turned out to not be all that important to the plot who was saying what, but it did feel like I was a step behind in math class and it kind of made me want to give up. But I didn’t.
Though I initially found myself asking if the author just needed a vehicle/soapbox to tie together some random political commentary, thoughts on current events, and “sketches” ultimately, I reconciled the disconnected unpolished feel for some reason. Like that one friend who’s a huge flake or is ridiculously narcissistic, but somehow you let them get away with it when no one else would…that’s kind of like this play. Flawed? Maybe. Incomplete? Possibly. Confusing at times? Totally. But, in the end, not as troublesome in the bad way as it was in the good way. And, the third character, whose identity I shall not reveal , is a large part of the good way. Like 20 minutes from an entirely different show was stuck in the middle of this one, our third mystery guest was a compelling and truly interesting bit of food for thought.
I’d have to say the majority of the technical aspects helped more in keeping me on track with the play than the script or even the acting did. Sound design was effective in keeping us engaged during the long scene changes. Scenery was simple, but cleverly symbolic and functional. Curtains seriously never worked so well in creating new, believable spaces and thumbs up for the realistic props and food on stage. I do hate mime and happily there was only real eating and drinking on stage. Of all the theatre I’ve seen over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen more effecting lighting for a car than I did during the very final scene of this piece.
This play is certainly part of what City Lights does best. It presents a modern perspective, an interpretation of realities blurred with fantasies and lies, and it brings up a lot more questions than it answers. Plan on conversation afterwards, because love it or hate it, I’m pretty sure you are going to have opinions one way or another. A 3 1/2 jewels out of 5 in the tiara for engaging and certainly thought-provoking piece. Aphrodisiac plays through February 19th at City Lights Theatre Company in Downtown San Jose.