By Hailey Nuthals, Arts Editor
Right from its “personality quiz” marketing stunt, it’s clear that “You Don’t Matter,” Paul Morris’ latest play, is setting itself up to make a crater-sized impact. The quiz, which has a handful of questions claiming to gauge whether or not you “matter,” is an obvious stunt – for each question, five answers are perfectly reasonable and the sixth is something like a Nietzsche quote or Nick Ut’s famed photograph of a child being burned by napalm in the Vietnam War. (Spoiler: no matter how you answer, you don’t matter.)
Between that and the tweets, the marketing is almost so heavy-handed as to make one wary. Be not afraid, though; the piece, directed by Morris & his wife, Cassandra, never lapses into the sort of cliches that its marketing embraces. The show opens on The Narrator; eccentric, nervous and questionably human. (It is notable that the narrator’s credit is censored in the playbill, and their bio is covered with large sticker of a dinosaur.) With an air of a showman preparing to unveil a trained animal at the zoo, they launch into a monologue about the continual birth and death of the universe. All of these lives of the stars, have led up to the moment the audience is witnessing – the anniversary, and subsequent argument, between Anna (Whitney St. Ours) and Robert (Corneilus Franklin, an NYU Tisch alumni).
The audience watches as Anna and Robert go about their lives. The couple laughs at the folks featured on reality shows about hoarders, and buy ingredients for salads they never eat. The scenes are eerily familiar. They fight – a lot. They often hurt each other when they do so. And at intervals, time stops while The Narrator offers up a tidbit: how many people were executed in an act of terrorism during the time it took Anna to degrade Robert’s self-pride, or the short story of the homicidal rampage of a young child while the couple tries to decide on dinner. Time ticks forward.
When, following the trauma of Robert’s suicide, Anna discovers she has the power to manipulate time – to pause it, reverse it, change it – the play becomes a fascinating examination of how we hurt our loved ones to a powerfully uncomfortable look at how we hurt everyone around us. Anna becomes mad with the ability to control time and thus give herself the option to take revenge on those who didn’t even hurt her but merely inconvenienced her. The Narrator comes back to a phrase time and time again – “you just find better and better ways to hurt people!”
And so it is with humanity – from building giant walls to hit pop songs dedicated to our exes, we can’t stop hurting each other. Anna’s time spins wildly out of control and then abruptly, the play is over. The audience is left reeling – thinking about not just their own existence, but their existence in relation to others. To the universe. It’s overwhelming, and frightening, but most of all, beautiful.
“You Don’t Matter” is running as part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival at the 64E4 Mainstage at 64 East 4th Street. Find tickets and more information here.