Mars, alack!

Bret Fetzer's new play defies observation.

I know Bret Fetzer. I like Bret Fetzer. He's a friendly, cool fella, a gifted and extremely intelligent playwright, one who's got a talent for elegantly reworking myth and legend through his own imagination blender, as he's shown with his fairy tales and his plays based upon Greek myth. But despite the fact that he's also an actor and director, he's really not the kind of guy who forces you to listen to him as he spouts off on whatever subject flits across his mind.

Except with this play.

Mars is a star who defies observation

Annex Theater

ends September 11

To describe Mars is a star who defies observation is to immediately make it sound more coherent than it is. Fetzer explores three basic themes: the life and scientific discoveries of 17th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler, the similarities and impossible gulfs between men and women on the subject of sex, and the playwright's own relationship and responsibility to his writing. All three rings of Fetzer's circus are full and loud almost from the get-go in this show and seem purposefully confusing. Fetzer plays Kepler, for example, while actress Barbi Beckett plays the playwright himself, who is involved in an ongoing debate with controversial writer Camille Paglia (played by Karn Junkinsmith). Sometimes action is center stage, but it's just as likely to be taking place almost off-stage, or on the video screens, or (for all I know) in the alley outside the theater. John Holyoke's direction routinely splits the focus, and the result produces a rare and splendid migraine.

This show is not only pretentious and confusing, but it perversely works against the abilities of the playwright. Fetzer writes great parts for women, so you know you're in trouble when the only woman playing a woman, Hilda Guttormsen as Elisabeth de Brahe, has her tongue cut out in the play's first 10 minutes. Considering such theatrical excess as original songs, masks, dance numbers, and the playwright dangling bare-ass naked, this is an unappetizing and unlovely play that is reminiscent of attempting to watch a PBS special on a scrambled TV while drunk and depressed.

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