The Atmosphere of Memory: Eternal Sunshine of the Plotless Mind

A painful, indulgent, masochistic exercise in patience for those willing to buy in

Since no actor stands out, praise is impossible. They are all directed by Pam MacKinnon like bewildered pedestrians plucked from a passing crowd and forced to read the Yellow Pages aloud. Who can say lines like “You play a role long enough—and well enough—and pretty soon it screws itself to your sticking place” with a straight face? Regarding the two best-known cast members, John Glover’s entire performance consists of spitting obscenities and rubbing his nipples. It’s difficult watching Ellen Burstyn prattling on about nocturnal emissions, father-son masturbation lessons and humiliating her daughter forever after her first menstrual cycle by hanging a bloody sheet from the window with her name on it. The only question worth pondering is why is she involved in anything so disgusting. Are these people personal friends who needed help? Is she a board member of the Labyrinth Theater Company? She doesn’t need the money, and anyway, a play with a single sofa for a set probably doesn’t pay carfare.

In Act II, out come the filing boxes containing a lifetime of transcripts, tape recordings and scribbled notes about how the whole family watched in horror during The Waltons as the father rubbed his penis across Grandma Walton’s face, leaving a smudge on the TV screen. Propriety forbids me to mention what they all did to each other when things really went haywire. Did I forget to mention there’s a guitar-strumming singing narrator between scenes who, it is suggested in the play’s wisest exchange, should be cut? In fact, they should cut the whole thing and they could start with a butcher knife. Instead, this family of ghouls lumbers on, expecting laughs. They get a few, but whole rows of people walked out during the intermission. Some people have all the luck.

rreed@observer.com