If you ever want to dazzle family and friends with your depth of thought without actually having to think deeply, try this: Just come up with two abstract nouns and connect them with the word "is." Then, during a lull in the conversation, get a faraway look in your eye and softly murmur, "Permanence is illusion." Or "Freedom is truth." Or "Knowledge is doubt." And if you really want to blow their minds, pause and then reverse the phrase with a knowing wink. One or more of the following will happen: 1) Somebody will inform you you're full of crap, or 2) somebody else will be moved by your words of wisdom and seek more details. Cease associating with the latter individual without delay.
Raymond Bobgan's new experience (one hesitates to call it a play) at Cleveland Public Theatre, called The Cult, is akin to being stuck in a room with five distressingly earnest people who, as with the above exercise, keep launching pseudo-meaningful bon mots like intellectual confetti. Since note taking was forbidden at this performance, it's difficult to exactly quote the tripe that flowed during a 75-minute performance that easily felt twice as long. And this is in spite of a cozy environment (inside a large fabric tent, set in a building adjacent to CPT's main stage), energetic and often engaging actors, and highly disciplined direction by Bobgan.
After audience members are asked whether they are eager to acquire knowledge, they are led to a seat inside the tent, and the five performers, three of whom are dressed similarly and appear to be participants in a cult, start spewing. There is plenty of sampling in this script, ranging from snatches of Shakespeare and Plato to a gandy dancer's song and a standard Christmas carol. But the one unifying theme is an almost impenetrable aura of spiritual and intellectual pretension. As the actors scream or whisper their lines, crawl on the floor in agony, or play games with each other, nothing is ever connected to anything so mundane as a plot or characters. "Explanation is irrelevance." They didn't say that. Or did they? Either way, who cares?
If you can manage to shut off your brain and just absorb this performance on a visceral level, there are diversions to be had. The five actors (Perren Hederson, G.A. Taggett, Chris Seibert, Holly Holsinger, and a swarthy fellow dubbed "Punchino") all appear to be deeply engrossed in the material, move with smooth precision, and even sing-chant passably well. Inside the tent, it feels a bit like a sweat lodge without the perspiration, and much of the action takes place within a circle of polished black stones that is occasionally swept into different configurations.
But as a theatrical entity, The Cult is far more annoying than involving. So it's a good thing those stones weren't pushed any closer to the audience, or at least one might have gone airborne. "Violence is impotence." Yeah, but it sure would have felt good.