Buzz, that juicy, onomatopoetic word with so many meanings: insect noise, bustling activity, excited gossip. That last one might become especially apropos for Buzz, the new play by novelist and founding editor of n+1 magazine, Benjamin Kunkel.
Before it even begins, Buzz situates itself in a dislocating fugue. The play takes place in a "site specific loft" in South Brooklyn, and those unfamiliar with the neighborhood will find themselves searching among desolate streets with no marquee, sign, or telltale din. Merely a narrow staircase lit in an eerie red beckons you upstairs into a spacious loft, curtained by floor to ceiling white plastic sheeting, giving it the closed-in feel of a (very sterile) tent. This feeling is redoubled as a frantic sound, like a hybrid of a swarm of insects and radio static, fills the room, and imposing figures in white hazmat suits enter and flit about the dwelling's minimalist decor: white bookshelves, white bed, white everything. All of this takes place as the audience find their seats on couches and chairs arranged in a broad semicircle around the peripheries of the room, thus beginning a long, destabilizing journey into the world of Buzz, a world that excels at making the familiar seem unfamiliar.
Buzz focuses on the married life (well, they're not technically married, as they keep reminding us) of Tom, played comically and ferociously by Trevor Kluckman, and Sasha, played with fierce but vulnerable aplomb by Jeri Silverman. They're in their thirties, very in love, and they're expecting a child. Sasha has a publishing job which she hates, and Tom is a playwright of some acclaim, struggling to write his next masterpiece. Because of this set-up, the play dwells in a meta-theatrical cycle; Sasha wants their life and love to be immortalized in Tom's new work, addressing the audience in earnest, "I'm not super practiced at speaking to an audience. Only I do this thing lately where I'm in the play." Later she stares us in the eye and tells us we're not real, a figment of her imagination as she enacts her great starring role in the play that has yet to be written. It's curious what Kunkel lets us accept as real or unreal. We see the familiar: a couple recounting falling in love, conversing and kissing, bickering with vacuous dinner company. But the characters are dressed in nothing but underwear, which concurrently makes them vulnerable in a very real way, and visually shocks the audience into remembering that this is merely a fiction.
Most disconcertingly of all, an insidious theme begins to weave its way through the happiness of Sasha and Tom. In this curious but recognizable world, flies run rampant, and exterminators -- those hazmat-clad goons -- offer to rid the house of them for a fee. The play bobs and weaves its way around the devastating psychological impact of such an infestation, and Tom and Sasha grapple with their fears that it might be selfish to bring a child into such a world of chaos. Tom seems bothered most of all, and we watch him in his perverse ballet, leaping and pouncing and smashing futilely at this enemy that we as the audience can't see or hear. Are we in a near-future possible dystopian reality in the thrust of global warming, or are we actually seeing a terrifying allegory of psychological demise?
Buzz lets you into the lives of this young(ish) couple at their most intimate moments, in their intimates, in the most intimate of all settings -- their home. As they swirled around and past us, we the audience hugging the peripheries on our couches and chairs, scarcely daring to breathe, I realized that we had the distinct, unsettling, voyeuristic pleasure of being, as the saying goes, a fly on the wall. But I bet Benjamin Kunkel already thought of that.
Performances of Buzz continue through November 22. It features Trevor Kluckman (Tom) and Jeri Silverman (Sasha), with direction by Lian Walden. The production team includes Christopher Ash (Scenic/Lighting/Projection Design), Seth Bodie (Costume Design), Steve Brush (Sound Design/Composition), Marthe Hoffmann (Associate Scenic Design) and Lanie Zipoy (Producer). For more information and tickets visit https://buzztheplay.com/
Buzz runs from October 18 to November 22 in Gowanus, Brooklyn.