As a teenager in a country where roughly 40 million adults suffer from anxiety disorders, it was gut-wrenching to see how accurately the cast of Will Eno’s play “Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions” communicate that life devours people of all ages and backgrounds. Perhaps because it was too real.
The eight character cast in the Center for the Arts Theatre at Pasadena City College (PCC) express what humans are truly thinking when hopeless situations arise, which they happened to display quite well. By the end of each scene, it would be fitting for the depressed characters to cry out “Oh, the humanity!”
Soliloquy after soliloquy, Eno’s play delivers an emotional barrage of the human experience, where themes of uncertainty and confusion become powerful forces.
Josh Fleming, the director of PCC’s take on “Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions”, described how the cast and crew managed to perfect the play in a six-week timeframe.
“What makes it unique, in comparison to other plays that I’ve done, is that the material, the way that the characters are written, are very quirky. There’s a lot of attention to punctuation and grammar.” Fleming said.
The audience participates, in a way, by being the intended witness to each scene. In the span of five scenes, we transformed from being journalists in a football press conference, to the families of those who died in a plane crash and even to a random crowd used to recreate a photograph of soldiers in the Spanish-American War.
Though what labels “Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions” the anthropomorphic play that it strives to be, according to audience member William Ortiz, is how each scene transforms from addressing an audience and ending with a focus solely on the characters’ benevolence.
“Although the play was only comprised of several fragments of what would otherwise be very in depth story plots, as well as simple interactions between people, it evokes much deeper thought.” Ortiz said.
The audience goes from observing the losing coach who yields his firm composure by admitting that what he desires most in this world is not football, but peace of mind, to the sharp airline PR representative who tries her best to relate with the families by remembering the death of her father and to the photographers who learn to empathize with the soldiers, who are only remembered by a simple photograph.
In the midst of searching for answers and objective meaning in the everyday actions and events that come our way, the audience finds that no matter how close we may be to achieving it, there will always be a degree of uncertainty and sheer randomness imparted upon us. Eno’s play shows that it alters the path in which we live our lives. It guides us.
The most thought provoking scene throughout the play deals with a photographer and her assistant played by Patricia Eyerman and Dilan Wijesinghe, where the audience attempts to decipher a photograph taken during the Spanish American War. The photo is first thought to have been ambiguous, until the assistant philosophically lectures to the photographer and the audience that everything has an intended meaning. He correlates the photographed soldiers to the audience, asserting that almost everyone is fearful of death.
Dilan Wijesinghe, who portrayed the photographer’s assistant, related his character to an idealist.
“Of course you can have a simple picture depicting a nice sunset or a simple portrait, but you can’t really tell what was happening in that moment.” Wijesinghe said. “I believe my character is interested in that human aspect of art. What drives us to make art? What does our art depict?”
Wijesinghe’s favorite part of Eno’s play was the ending. For him, it nicely wraps up the story by showcasing all of the play’s themes.
We move our attention to an annoyed couple, played by Christian Land and Erin Fitzgerald, who debate whether they are supposed to go to a funeral for the man’s father or to a christening of the woman’s family member. The setting is erratic but seemingly hilarious; the man realizes that they are not in fact sitting in a car, but chairs. The disagreement between the two digresses into a constant state of bickering about their love life.
“One of the most terrifying lines ever, to me, and the one that hits me all the time, is Erin’s line, ‘You and your stupid chairs!’ That always gets me.” Wijesinghe added.
Each of these scenes and the characters involved carries with them the theme that life is filled with a continual lack of knowledge concerning the future. With this, no matter how much a person can plan for the future, we will never be able to fully take into account certain random events, such as death.
“In every scene, the phrase ‘I don’t know’ is said,” Fleming commented. “That’s what our humanity is, that uncertainty. But we seem allergic to that, in our everyday life.”