By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Actually, The Chinese Art of Placement sounds much more audacious than it really is. Stanley Rutherford's monologue, over an hour long, is standard crazy-stranger-on-the-bus theater--i.e., it makes all of us magnets for earnest wackos who mix their worldviews with painful or embarrassing personal confessions while we're trapped in our seats. Kitchen Dog member Tina Parker directs Mark Farr as Sparky Litman, a logorrheic scribbler of embittered poetry who has decided the world is nasty enough without his tortured verse. The conversion to a more hopeful yet ordered outlook--feng sui, the ancient philosophy of generating the chi, or life force, via decorating strategies--occurred just last night. He is preparing for a party, calling people he knows never liked him and inviting them into his ant-ridden but (hopefully) more serene--more "normal," as he puts it--apartment to celebrate.
One assumes that Rutherford intended Sparky to be pathologically delusional; the long passages about his work for the CIA in Vietnam exhibit his gullible nature in allowing the government to use him as a pawn transmitting secrets via train travel. Without that premise, The Chinese Art of Placement is seriously overcrowded with comic conceits. It's a tad piled-up even with it. The playwright undoubtedly wants Litman to be both crazy and sweetly neurotic, sympathetic and hostile, and between these polarities lurk tales of high school woe, wartime sexual escapades, failed artistic ambition, and, of course, tidbits of Asian domestic wisdom.
We take some pretty wide turns through these flavors and reminiscences, and although actor Mark Farr doesn't quite synthesize them as satisfyingly as one might wish (I'm not sure any actor could, although you're itching for someone like Terry Martin or Carl Savering to give it a try), he had no trouble garnering big laughter from the audience on opening night. Farr is in some ways an unlikely performer, at least in terms of technique. He has not completely polished his farm-boy twang, and can have a defiantly unthespian posture when standing on a stage. But he pulls a wagonload of affability behind him, and, when properly advised by a director, can steer it with inerrant comic rhythms to take us for a ride despite our quibbles. I can say, without qualification, that The Chinese Art of Placement should entertain you. It just may not convince you.