Tonight’s performance of Field of Mars was staged at the NYU Skirball Center and is part of the Public Theater’s 18th Under the Radar Festival. In this magnificent Broadway-sized theater, the audience assembled on riser platforms on stage to ensure access to an intimate, simple set. This setting provided the apposite environment for an intellectual sojourn of provocative, seemingly incongruent poetic structures and images portraying the psyche of nihilistic, perhaps irrelevant human lives. “Are we not surrounded by uselessness?”
The mysterious, mystical provenance of Campus Martius, or The Field of Mars, emanates from a site in ancient Rome (5th century BC) by the altar of Mars and the temple of Apollo. The play opened with poetic imagery describing creation scenes from the Bible’s book of Genesis. It’s the beginning – “Let There Be Light.” This preceded detailed descriptions of colors used by artists, names of the colors, how they have evolved, and, at times, faced extinction. Included were Forest Green 5, Indian Yellow 3, and Burdette 4, which along with others, might provide context for examining the shadings of one’s world. The sun, fire, trees, sky, and water – life in all its permutations.
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden appear in a metaphysical haze as we contemplated our primordial roots as described in Christianity. After their languorous embrace, Adam described his body and how he and the woman were “one.” This preceded periods of silence and forward dance motion of slow spinning from Eden and circling a North Carolina restaurant’s bar. Eve initiated a game of hide-and-seek, but Adam was confused as the scene slid into the chain restaurant’s virtual world. The restaurant manager was watching the game and cued Adam as to the game’s rules. Adam tried the countdown, Eve disappeared, and the scene completed its transition.
Restaurant employees dabbled in typical complaints about the neighborhood and their work as we acclimated to the new setting. Two older songwriters (boomers or Gen Xers) entered and chatted about their favorite songs from the 1970s. Two others (millennials) joined them, prompting gentle dueling with generation-defining expressions like “OMG,” “SMH,” “yeah, man,” and more. Even a flip phone made an appearance. Characters passionately described music as a personal, powerful, and defining force in shaping human joy and peace. Conversely, it was characterized simply as a commercial marketing enterprise. Perhaps music could both enrich one’s soul and add to a bank account with ASCAP checks.
Later, one of the boomers sat at the bar with the bartender to discover she played electric bass guitar in a band. Although she generally expressed a deadpan persona who cited her “lack of spirituality,” she slightly brightened when describing how a song might fit one’s emotions.
Electric guitars gently played an ascending/descending repeated blues pattern, which was to later return with forceful full distortion in a psychic blast of rock n’ roll.
Existentialism seemed to dominate undertones dealing with the passage of time, mechanically repeating the practices of our predecessors and our insignificance in the vastness of the universe and history. Contemporary topics came to the forefront as the troupe discussed Jan 6, the recent Supreme Court decision on abortion, school shootings, teaching immigrants English in a high school, paleontology, climate change, Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, and the plight of the homeless. But are these topics important in the scheme of our timely existence? Relevant quotes included “It is our nature to build and self-destruct over and over,” “You can’t be faithful and be full of despair,” or “good music is god music.”
While a sense of despair, abnegation, and dejection subjugated the evening’s repartee, musical art was honored for its pathos and sincerity. The honest expression and value of the musical artist predominated, despite some dismissal of music as a means to earn money.
Every aspect of the production is not described here, so don’t wait to get tickets. There’s something for everyone. Absorb, think, reflect, debate, and carpe diem.
Running Time: 120 Minutes with one intermission. The play contains graphic language and situations. Recommended for ages 18+, and audiences will be seated on stage with limited seating capacity.
Field of Mars – January 19-22, 24-29
Presented by New York City Players
Written and directed by Richard Maxwell
Presented in association with NYU Skirball
Lakpa Bhutia, Nicholas Elliott, Jim Fletcher, Eleanor Hutchins, Paige Martin, Brian Mendes, James Moore, Phil Moore, Steven Thompson, Tory Vazquez, and Gillian Walsh.
Sets and Lights: Sascha van Riel
Costumes: Kaye Voyce
Producer: Nicholas Elliott
Stage Manager/Assistant Director: Almog Cohen-Kashi
Technical Director: Dirk Stevens
Set Engineer: Charles Reina
Lighting Consultant: Matt Morris
Production Assistants: Makeda Christodoulos, Tim Reid
NYCP Company Manager: Eric Magnus
NYU Skirball Center
566 LaGuardia Place
New York, NY 10012
For tickets and information, go to https://nyuskirball.org/. or The Public Theater.
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Conrad Herwig and the Latin Side All Stars, Bigmouth Strikes Again: The Smiths Show, Thunderbird American Indian Dancers’ Pow-Wow and Dance Concert, and Darkness After Night: Ukraine.