4 out of 4 stars
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Art thou stamin-ambitious enough to take on this head-spinning, ob-skeweringly verbose, indeco-rustically Shakespearean play? Or is it that your love for chaos in word-er is trumped by your clever-sion to matters of dire-onical importance, such as philo-soliloquizing on the nature of braggart-istic expression? Nothing is More by Dolly Gray Landon (a pseudonym and anagram of the author’s real name, Gary Lloyd Noland) is the script for a six-hour play, a satirical black comedy written in doggerel verse. This pun-filled linguistic labyrinth pokes fun at the elitism of the art world and academia while still gracefully tackling large and complex themes in philosophy and aesthetics.
The story is set in a fictional Pimpleton State Luniversity in New Jersey, where six opinionated people with vastly differing perspectives on what constitutes “art” butt heads and form alliances over philosophical arguments. Five of these characters are students in the Luniversity-specific postdoctoral “stool” program, striving for the lucrative “Modigger Prize.” Their areas of research are hyper-specialised and absurdly obscure, including topics such as Pimaeval Linguistics, Feline Transgender Studies, and Astromusicology. The star of the show is a bombastic artist named Phangbang Bonation, a “submicrominimalist,” whose artistic movement of “Nadaism” has revolutionised the art world. Nadaism consists of doing and producing nothing, “nada,” and is touted as not only a legitimate but a prodigiously revolutionary form of self-expression. Two other “stool” candidates, Purvel and Pelvin—disgusted by this fraud being committed on the artistic and academic world—form an elaborate scheme to expose Bonation as the scammer they believe him to be and to make sure that Nadaism becomes simply an unfortunate blip in the trajectory of art history. To complete this six-act story, add a corrupt Beverly Lovebucks (President of the Luniversity and career politician), two distinctly impressionable women whose affections Bonation has captured, a chorus, a musical score, and miscellaneous cats. Do Pelvin and Purvel succeed in their efforts to save art? What dark secrets lie in the Pandora’s box of the art world? What happens when their own theories are put to the test?
In the beginning of the play, I was unsure of what “level of irony” the script was on. I shall explain this further. Some of the wordplay seemed corny and forced (for example: badministrators, unsnobjectively, dustbinstitutionalized, run-of-the-nil, fartistic, greater than the scum of its parts). The characters also seemed wildly caricatured, with Phangbang Bonation in particular exhibiting obscene and unsophisticated behaviour that was so over the top that it was more confusing to read than funny. There was also a lot of overtly derogatory sexual content. For these reasons, I was not sure whether the author intended that the satire be unsubtle, whether this lack of subtlety was part of the satire, or whether this tension between subtlety and lack thereof was another intended element of the satire. The story started off seeming as though the author was just relentlessly and remorsefully vilifying academia and the art world, dragging it down and dismissing it as silly without offering any possibility of redemption. However, as the plot twisted on and loose strings tied up, the author created a beautifully nuanced unfolding of events. Different aspects of previously unidimensional characters were exposed to create more balanced and less unequivocal philosophical explorations. Some profound questions were provoked apropos the meanings of beauty, originality, destruction, and creation. The narrative had a merciless logical incisiveness to it, but less readily visible was the gentle ethical questioning behind it that tied the whole piece together. During the course of reading the script, the rating I wanted to give the book was constantly fluctuating in my mind, finally settling on a solid 4 out of 4 stars after initially wanting to rate it 2 stars.
The author has an incredible grasp of language and wielded it masterfully, filling the script with deft puns and word mashups. Even the descriptions (parts of the piece that don’t have to actually be performed) have clever wordplay. The juxtaposition of Shakespearean language and blatant, sleazy vulgarity set the stage for clever and entertaining contrasts. The author was very thorough in laying out a comprehensive and well-structured plan for the six acts, including detailed stage setups, colour schemes, costumes, and body language. The musical scores also seem to be very complex pieces.
Funnily enough, it was difficult to identify typos because I was unsure whether a word was spelled wrong or whether it was wordplay so skilful I just didn’t understand it. The editing was quite professional, and I only caught a couple of errors. However, one non-grammatical confusion I had was why Pimpleton was sometimes the “Luniversity” and sometimes the “adversity.”
One potential issue is that a lot—if not most—of the linguistic details might get lost during the actual performance of the play. This applies especially to small words that aren’t in otherwise particularly interesting sentences, such as saying “snuffice” instead of “suffice.” Another potential issue is that the entire script is a string of twisted-up words, heavy philosophical concepts, and multiple levels of meaning. Somebody who isn’t exceptionally abstract in thought or invested in art philosophy might become bored or fail to hang on to the multiple threads of theory, especially if it is being watched and not read. There is a lot to be processed in terms of theoretical material, and I believe the audience might not get enough time to digest all the concepts it if they watch it live.
I wish I knew what kind of audience the author was looking to target. From what I’ve seen, this piece most probably has an extremely niche audience. I loved this play only because I am heavily into art history and I enjoy clever wordplay. I would have also probably not have enjoyed this play as much if I had watched it instead of reading it. I would only recommend Nothing is More to people who have some background in the philosophy of aesthetics and enjoy following numerous metaphysical threads at once. I would also recommend this only to audiences over eighteen due to the graphic content.
Nothing is More
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