There are some big ideas in Misha Shulman’s The Fake History of George the Last, presented at Theater for the New City and produced in association with the longest lunch theater company. Human cloning, generational repetition, predestination, and inherited violence all converge in this new play from the recent Brooklyn College Playwriting MFA program graduate. The Fake History relates the futuristic story of four generations of clones named George who go through the same family rituals and rites of passage over a 70-year period, discovering in the process the inevitability of the family history passed down to them. The play's intriguing notions, however, become mired in an overstuffed script that reads better on the page than on the stage. The lightening-fast pace of the production also prevents a clear understanding of the action and the characters. Born and raised in Jerusalem, Shulman is the 2009 winner of the Jewish Canadian Playwriting Competition and a 2010 semi-finalist for the P73 Fellowship. He is also a Writer in Residence at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto and a member of Theater for a New City’s Emerging Writers Program. In a body of work that includes 2004’s The Fist, about Israeli Army refuseniks, and last summer’s Apricots, a dark absurdist comedy about Israeli-Palestinian affairs, the theme of violence recurs.
In this absurdist dramedy, the violence is all in the family. When George Senior ultimately reveals the details of cloning himself to his son/duplicate George Junior on his 16th birthday, it sets in motion a seemingly inescapable pattern. Defiant and insistent on their individual choices, the Georges cannot evade their fates, which culminate in murder.
Staged minimally, the most outstanding feature of the set by Czerton Lim is a series of 20 picture frames that flicker to life with images of George’s “ancestors” — an assemblage of portraits of the five cast members in period dress, suggesting the passage of time. Throughout the play, these portraits remain alive, much like the magical paintings of the Harry Potter movies where the subjects speak and move.
Running a brief intermission-less 85 minutes, The Fake History moves quickly, too quickly for audience members to grasp the change from one generation of George to the next. As all the cast members each play at least two nearly identical characters who share the same name, the confusion mounts. This confusion, however, does help blur the generational lines between the Georges, which may be the intention of the director, Meghan Finn, a member of Soho Rep’s writer-director lab and a graduate of the MFA program in Directing at Brooklyn College.
The cast attacks the script with verve and vigor, although the text’s preoccupation with scatology tends to derail the dramatic intensity. Ben Jaeger-Thomas as the Georges Senior, Jared Mezzocchi as the Georges Junior, and Sarah Painter as the Janes/Mothers, are particularly compelling. Mezzocchi, also the video designer of the show, has an especially eerie moment of acting with and against himself in a recording of the aforementioned 16th birthday that accentuates the play’s theme of inherited fate and inevitability.
Although the program notes that lyrics for the musical interludes were adapted from the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, unfortunately these passages are hard to comprehend because of uneven sound design that makes deciphering the words of the songs nearly impossible. This hinders audience members from understanding the connection of the musical score, by the playwright and Kevin Farrell, to the action of the play.
But the big ideas shine through in a production that could ultimately benefit from a bit more polish. Is mankind fated to repeat the sins of the past? Is violence between men inevitable? Is a human clone a unique being or simply a carbon copy of its original? And, by extension, what is the relationship of a father to his son? The Fake History of George the Last does not offer the answers to these questions, but it poses them provocatively.