BWW Review: A woman uses science to comprehend America in THE CHAOS THEORY OF NOW at Theater For The New City
When I sat down to see The Chaos Theory of Now, I found the pre-show music selections to be quirky. Barbara Mandrell's "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool." Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science." k.d. lang's "Constant Craving." Turns out the song choices were spot on. The author and performer, Jennifer Joy Pawlitschek, grew up on a farm before becoming a science nerd and a lesbian.
Her play uses the fascinating idea of taking chaos theory to help explain what is happening in America today. Like many of us, she is struggling to grasp how people can see the world so differently. "My family are far right Republican, fundamentalist Christian, climate change-denying, Trump-voting creationists." She asks out loud, "How did that happen?"
Ms. Pawlitschek will take us on several journeys. Widowed Joyce is struggling to save the Nebraska family farm and owns a bookstore called Isaiah 40:31 Books and Gifts. Lesbian politician Jenny is running for office in a deeply religious Minnesota district. Her daughter Ashley is the poster child for antifa. Bethany lives in Atlanta persevering through an unhappy marriage while homeschooling four children.
In addition to these characters, Ms. Pawlitschek acts as the narrator. Her thought experiment is allowed to blossom from engaging individualized stories to broader perspectives and analysis. Her siblings all went to the same schools. "How did I end up loving science, when most of my family became committed fundamentalists? How can chaos theory explain this?"
Politician Jenny is a moderate democrat who believes in cutting government waste but also taking care of the less fortunate. She's campaigning in a place "where farming is a pre-existing condition." Humorous little zingers pepper this play and are endearing. Her daughter screams her rage and calls the President a "pervy seventy year old." That's the clean version.
The playwright figured out she was a lesbian in college. "I met Dee, an androgynous heartthrob with a tragic past." She uses characters to demonstrate alternative points of view but does not mock them. The outrage of youth is tempered by the rest of the women who are matured but seemingly hardened into their beliefs. Homeschooling mom Bethany is sure end of times is coming and she is preparing her family.
These vignettes are expanded into commentary. What is the difference between a public school education and a home schooled childhood? Public school is filled with mixing experiences, different ideas and random events. The home environment is much more controllable and, therefore, structurally more linear. With the advent of computers, chaos theory was exploding the notions of complex systems. They are non-linear, dynamic and full of contradictions. Many people need linearity, she proposes.
The Chaos Theory of Now occasionally packages its politics into simplistic liberal treatises. Some of the speeches are less compelling than the storytelling and analytical concepts. She asks us to consider "are immigrants stealing our jobs or is it robots?" In our complicated world, the answer cannot be simply a or b. Corporate greed, slave wages overseas, changes in work ethic and so on - the culprits are many and labyrinthine.
Spontaneous reorganization can happen when destabilizing elements are added into complex systems. Ms. Pawlitschek ponders with us. "What new country will come of out these tumultuous times?" What is going to emerge from this place of fear and anger? How nice to have a personal memoir performed with exuberance and joy to help us shed some light on our world today. The Chaos of Now is unique, personal and a rewarding experience.
As part of Theater For the New City's Dream Up Festival, The Chaos Theory of Now is running through September 15th.