[Review:] THE PREACHER (online).
Unfortunately, I must start this review as I mean to end it, by stating that this performance is…underwhelming. Its biggest and all-consuming issue is its repetitiveness, and this is where I shall begin.
For the very first minute and a half, as corny as it was, Anthony Noack's humour is inviting, and the character he has developed, Dave Davidson, is awkwardly likeable and endearing. His manner is quirky; his tone, peculiar and unique. It is easy to feel as though a good comedy show is being set up for us…and then that minute passes, and Noack's manner and tone are unchanging, his speech becomes robotic and monotonal, his gestures repetitious. A pattern quickly emerges whereby every sentence begins 'legato', slow and with low intonation, and becomes 'staccato' with a high intonation as he reaches its end. With one hand on the microphone, Noack uses the other, flat-palmed, to gesture towards the camera with a stabbing motion, thrusting forward with every single syllable. When coming towards the end of an argument or idea, the free hand is extended back and to the side, communicating the same intent as Dave's favourite [and my least favourite] of his repeated phrases: 'What's the deal?' This continues throughout the entire performance, incessantly without fail, for every sentence. A quick return to the corny style three minutes in suggests that there is hope yet, despite that same falling-rising tone…but no. We are now stuck with this stagnant persona for forty minutes. Noack unfortunately presents himself in this performance as an unversatile and unlayered writer and performer whose characterisation of David is absolutely lacking in depth and whose performance has very little visual appeal to salvage an audience‘s interest, especially given that Noack stands on an empty, dark stage, alone with but a stool and a glass of wine.
Comedy shows, generally, aim to subvert expectation, and this is the premise of their humour, and so it is questionable that Noack has decided upon such a bland and monotonous structure for his so-called comedy. The utter lack of vigour and depth, and not to mention the complete lack of comedy, makes this 'comedy show', whose content is, of course, heavily religious –– more on that later –– resemble more a Judaeo-Christian lecturing, a teaching, a moralisation. It is easy to feel as though Noack is simply using the medium of performance to teach us about the world, about God, about our existence and the meaning of life, which perhaps is on the mark, considering the aims of the dramatic text and that David is, indeed, supposed to be a priest, but which does not make for a particularly entertaining watch. It is just too “on the nose”, so to speak.
This sense of boredom and lack of depth is concretised with the employment of phrases that are used over and over again throughout the performance, most notably: 'under the sun' and, as I mentioned above, the one I personally find most jarring, 'What's the deal?', which is similar to yet another, 'What's with that?' 'What's the deal?' is said over ten times, and I am sure that this was deliberate, with Noack thinking that this must produce some comedic effect…it does not; it is simply grinding. It reduces all of the content of the performance to a mere setup to a punchline, the 'punchline' being simply that phrase. It causes the mind to consciously prepare for the phrase that is coming and treat whatever is said before it as negligible, which might be effective if this phrase actually had some comedic value or integrity; it does not, for, in itself, this phrase is completely negligible, too. There is even a far-too-long, 44-second segment involving a repeated anaphora, "A time to [this], and a time to [that]", making repetition all the more inherent to this performance. And this is without mentioning the recurrent theme of the wise man and the fool that makes a persistent and, again, needless appearance throughout.
Repetition is not limited to the mere soliloquy itself, however, but extends to the 'symbolic' elements of the performance as well –– most significantly, Dave drinking his glass of wine. Every so often, Noack pauses, turns, looks at the wine and takes a slow, silent swig. He then puts the wine glass down, pauses, and finally continues talking…in the exact same manner and with the exact same conviction he has been talking this entire time thus far. When first explaining that he had "opened a bottle of the biblical beverage before the show", Dave explains that he had set out on a journey of wisdom but that "an increase in knowledge only leads to an increase in sorrow". He implies that he has acted like a fool deliberately and then states, after taking a sip, "I can control myself!" The wine, then, seems to symbolise a certain sadness that Dave is experiencing beyond his speech; it is easy to feel that Dave is covering something up, something that will come to light eventually. In other words, it seems as though Dave is an alcoholic, which is not what the symbol of the wine intends to communicate here. In fact, it is incredibly difficult to work out what purpose the wine glass actually serves, other than to generate unwillfully tense breaks for him and the audience between his lengthy speeches.
Odd exclamations like "Go and eat with pleasure, and drink your wine with joy" follow his every sip, and it is clear that Noack wanted the wine to mean something, but it simply is not coming through. Upon reading the description of the recording, I read: 'Davidson struggles to maintain the momentum of his online act. However, with a liberal dose of wine, he takes the audience along on his journey'. So, the wine is being used as a means to stress relief? Presumably, this is supposed to be comedic as well? Presumably, we are supposed to sense a shift in Dave's performance as he loosens up with ‘liberal’ helping of the wine… Well, we do not. Not only are these so-called ‘liberal’ helpings mere ignorable sips, but Noack also remains just as monotonous as before after taking them, as I have written above, and the awkward and slow speed at which Dave reaches for the wine makes it seem far less like he is reaching to chug some more down to aid his spirits and more like a weird absurdist skit whose material simply fixates on the strange and the unnecessary for no good reason at all. Needless to add, this was very badly communicated. When we finally do get a slight –– NB: slight –– shift in persona as Dave holds the bottle of wine, now supposedly very merry, it is 1) far too late and hence ineffective, and 2) short-lived, for as soon as he puts the bottle down, he is back to his monotonous self.
The wine glass is not the only symbol to succumb to such a fate of ill-communication, however. There are also odd close-ups on Dave's body, usually his hands but sometimes his chest: one of his clenched fists; another of him grasping the microphone after the phrase "grasping the wind"; and another of his dropping the microphone after saying "his desire shall fail"… There seems to be a lot of these attempts at symbolism hidden underneath the text that simply do not come through due to a lack of expressivity, to unrefined comedic timing, or to the fact that the symbolism is simply needless and unnecessary.
I realised in retrospect that the clichéd 'drunken priest' is probably what Noack was aiming for here, and this certainly could be a premise for a comedy show, but this would innately require a degree of caricaturisation and performed stereotype, which is certainly not offered in this performance.
With the mention of the priest comes the underpinning element of this dramatic text: the book of Ecclesiastes. Now, the inspirations are certainly clear, from general themes and teachings to specific references such as 'chasing the wind'. The meaninglessness of our activities, our false hopes and inane interests and desires, 'hevel', all of this is certainly communicated in this performance, but there is a huge lack of creativity and theatricality in this communication. Noack simply regurgitates the content of the biblical book with a few, fleeting and ineffective references to his character Dave’s life, job and failed marriage, etc. –– ie nothing that makes Dave a particularly original, profound or unique character worth paying attention to. What also makes this rather dull, I believe, is the fact that Dave is speaking retrospectively. There is no sense of growth, danger, risk, change; Dave has been there, has done that, and he is now here to give his friendly advice… again, rather more like a sermon than a comedy show, and not to any avail.
The material, naturally, is also heavy and needs to be broken up a lot more, to give the audience some respite, to relieve them of the overwhelming theme of the meaninglessness of human action and life, and to let them actually take in the information that they have received –– this is where the comedy should have come in! A mere few jokes about rabbits entering bars, or God’s favourite sandwiches –– which, contrary to Dave’s apparent experience, I would not deem to be quite enough to uplift mourners at a funeral –– do not quite make the cut.
In synopses, Noack also references ancient preaching techniques and how he wants to draw similarities between these and modern comedy shows in The Preacher, but this is quite obviously a concept merely inspiring this performance, as theory does not match up with practice. There are no allusions within the performance to this, nor are these similarities interrogated, examined or established to any considerable, effective or even apparent degree through this performance.
However, the context of a comedy show is certainly a great one to explore the profound theme of hevel, and who better to tell us about it than a drunk priest wanting only to be merry and have a great time? However, these elements were simply underused in this performance. What we are left with is 'performance' used as a mere, unadulterated excuse to present a blatant translation of the book of Ecclesiastes with a few, failing jokes scattered in to [fail to] lighten the mood.