Letter to Editor: Humor can be harmful

To the Editor:

As a supporter of the arts in Bar Harbor, I was excited to hear that local theater was being produced in our town when I saw advertising for “The Summoning of the Flamingo of Love,” at the Criterion Theater Feb. 8 and 9. This was the second recent production of the work, an absurdist comedy by playwright/co-director Mike Perlman, at the Criterion.

In the first scene, the curtain opens on four posed figures in black. The viewer is made to believe the show will develop into an ironic commentary on the often self-important nature of theater.

What actually unfolds over the next two hours is a heavier experience. The characters of “Flamingo” tumble through a narrative that follows the journey of a young prince on his quest for “magical love.” Along for the ride are the eccentric figures he meets, who all come to symbolize or support, via offensive stereotypes, his difficulty to unravel the problematic masculinities in which his identity is entangled.

With finesse and sensitivity, “Flamingo” could have had a chance to take a whack at the toxic views of queer culture, violent masculinity, the silencing of women, and heteronormativity which have come to permeate popular media today. Unfortunately, the work takes a turn away from thought-provoking commentary, and instead utilizes tropes built on these issues to grab easy laughs from the audience.

Energetically and visually, the play exists in excess. Colorful homemade sets, loud music breaks, screamed monologues, and mismatched costuming — a “yes” aesthetic that is becoming popular in experimental performance today. These choices, however, did not hold the feeling of an intentionally crafted world. Instead, they seemed like a collection of kitsch without the clever irony that can sometimes make “tackiness” work.

Ultimately, my disappointment lies in the work’s seeming original intention, to be a brainless comedy, in relationship to its actual outcome: a series of jokes that are made at the expense of the queer and feminine personas in the story. It becomes clear that the comedy is not just harmless self-satire, but is instead humor gleaned from poking fun at these oppressed identities.

It is my sincere hope that the cast and directorial team can continue to revise and re-examine the value system that is at work in “The Summoning of the Flamingo of Love.”

Dan Redmon

Bar Harbor

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