Our Practical Heaven, which had its world premiere at the Aurora Theatre Thursday night, shows us a world where birds and people return to their home year after year. It also shows us a world where cell phone reception stretches into the deep woods, where climate change is displacing wildlife and where technology can cause literary erosion even in the last bastion of higher culture: namely theater.
Anthony Clarvoe's unlikable play was a finalist in the Aurora's Global Age Project, an initiative to cultivate theater that addresses life in the 21st century and beyond. In contemporary life, the spoken word is becoming a precious resource; the theater has been a refuge for articulate speech, eloquent language, or at least verbal and human interplay.
But playwrights can choose to bypass all of this. Marital disputes can unfold silently on characters' cell phone screens for audiences to only imagine. Banter can be reduced to texting with chat acronyms and wordlessly projected txtspk. Powerful emotions can be evaded using images of Facebook posts. Director Allen McKelvey and playwright Anthony Clarvoe have made all these language-inhibiting choices in Our Practical Heaven. Vaguely formed characters, stiff levity, heavy-handed depth, and affected lyricism are other reasons this play disappoints.
In Clarvoe's slogging saga, six characters encompassing three generations of women return to a beloved beach house season after season to loiter under one roof. Clarvoe thickly paints a sense of "Shared Experience". Later on, the play will strive towards Chekhovian melancholy and longing, but the script flits this way and that before landing on a final mood.