Proustonomy Warps Time, Wows Audiences
Dominic Finocchiaro’s thesis production, Proustonomy, begins with an explosion of paper that remains on stage for the remainder of the performance, preempting the chaos that ensues as the lives of two men intertwine and ultimately fall apart.
Proustonomy tells the stories of Marcel Proust, played by Jason King, and Sydney Feinman, played by Zach Hailey. Proust is, in Finocchiaro’s words, “campy, passionate, and full of energy;” Sydney is “neurotic, closed, and lost.” While the two men grapple with their artwork, love lives and personal demons, the temporal and spatial lines that separate their lives erupt and Sydney’s deranged subconscious takes control.
The first act focuses on the separate lives of the two men: Proust, a struggling writer in late nineteenth century France and Sydney, a struggling writer in current day New York.
Proust lives with his maid, Celeste (Amy Egerton-Wiley), and is head-over-heels for his womanizing typist, Alfred (Ariana Karp). While Proust attempts to write “a novel about everything,” he is met with frustration and the occasional epiphany. When Alfred leaves Proust to learn how to fly, the writer is plunged into depression. Not even his ex-love, Monsieur Reynaldo (Sam Hopkins), can help. “You know, in all my life I have never known a person I loved as much as I love you,” pledges Proust before quickly being met with “We both know you say that to all the boys.”
Sydney lives with his boyfriend, Charlie (Andrew Brown), an aspiring actor type whose doting manner is wearing thin. As Sydney becomes increasingly obsessed with his play about Proust, Charlie tries his best to keep the relationship from going to shit. In a last-ditch effort to make things work, Charlie dresses up as Proust and sprinkles the apartment with rose petals. Sydney is not amused and Charlie gets offended. The two fight and Sydney overdoses on his little pink pills – no cat, dog, or dinosaur there to eat them for him.
Before he blacks out, Sydney sees the spirit of Proust and says, “He opens his mouth, from out of the television sofa-chair-nothingness, he opens his mouth and he says- ‘You’re creating something. That’s what you’re doing,’ He says that. And then shit gets crazy.”
And shit gets crazy, all right. Act Two takes place in “Sydney’s deranged subconscious” and includes a cooking show (Proust makes orgasmic madeleines but Sydney insists they’re made with too much butter) a visit to an existential grocery store (“We’re in the wrong Aisle. We’re in Aisle Nine, Spiritual Crises. Literary Crises are on Aisle Seven,” says Proust before the intercom announces there has been a “self-confidence spill on Aisle Nine.”) and a dream sequence with Cher’s “Believe” pulsing as the secondary characters parade across stage wearing Proust masks. While all of this is going on, the characters become increasingly self-aware and the two story lines intersect. At one point, Celeste justifies Reynaldo’s impending visit by telling Proust “Second acts are hard to keep interesting, Monsieur,” and later, when the relationships of Sydney and Proust with Charlie and Reynaldo splinter apart, it seems as though all four characters are having one conversation, rather than two separated by a century and the Atlantic Ocean.
Ultimately, Proustonomy accomplishes Finocchiaro’s goal of marrying high and low art. His “sex and Monty Python jokes” scale the “pretentious Ivory Tower” of Proust’s work and have a raging party of which the audience is happy to be a part. Though the booming, disembodied voice of Rosalie Lowe is sometimes used superfluously, detracting from the moments when it is most effective, and the puppet Prousts are at times overworked, the play never becomes a caricature of itself. King’s performance as the frantic, fruity, frisky Proust is enrapturing and Hailey’s reserved and subtle performance is equally strong. The set design’s shared bedroom setup is ingenious; kudos to you, Tevon Edwards and Sydney Low.
The inspiration for Proustonomy came to Finocchiaro after reading Proust’s seminal work, In Search of Lost Time, and realizing that the work was much more accessible than it’s given credit for being. He stressed that Proust’s focus was basic human desires – sex, love, acceptance – and wished to bring the writer “down to real life” with his play.
“[Swann’s Way] changed my relation to reading and I wanted to transfer that feeling to drama,” says Finocchiaro.
Working with his dramaturge, Cora Walters, last summer, Finocchiaro reworked his script and added much of what actually made it onto the stage, including the cooking show and shopping cart scenes.
Though a theatre company in New York was in talks to produce Proustonomy, they ultimately decided against it. However, Finocchiaro says he is still looking to the future and that he doesn’t want to “get stuck” on Proustonomy – he plans to continue playwriting and is currently applying to study for an MFA.