The dance between self-revelation and self-indulgence has taken several forms over the years with the Neo-Futurists, but perhaps no other show has moved so close to the heart of this conflict than "Analog," conceived by Kurt Chiang. Though it starts as an exploration of his obsession with transcribing all of William Golding's boys-gone-wild allegory, "Lord of the Flies," in longhand, it soon becomes clear that it's Chiang's own battle against non-Hodgkin's lymphoma — and what that struggle means in terms of defining his fate — that forms the real survivor's narrative.
The disease, which manifested as an orange-sized tumor lodged between his lung and heart, was diagnosed when Chiang was in college. And though he is now considered cured, the experience has left him "anxious that I can't trust my own body."
The reasons why Chiang chose Golding's book for his transcription experiment aren't entirely clear. It's more MacGuffin than muse — and as cast member and co-writer Tim Reid points out, "It's not a very good book." True, there are glancing parallels with people in Chiang's own life, most notably his wife and fellow co-writer/performer Jessica Anne, who has twin brothers (just like Sam and Eric in the novel), and even had a young brother named Eric who died. And the undefined "beast" that mentally terrorizes Golding's stranded schoolboys finds its own, well, analog with Chiang's recurring fears of early death.
Ultimately, Chiang acknowledges that writing out Golding's story in composition books was a way "to give life something solid" against his early knowledge of its frailty. And in a world where so many of our stories now exist in a digital cloud, there is a sort of desperate nobility to committing words — even those of Golding's strained allegory — by hand to paper. This hits home before the show as the audience is led through a space shrouded in dingy white cloth and filled with stacks of books. One table contains envelopes filled with letters in which Chiang has re-created part of his own script and his own personal story about fighting "Sammy," the name he gave the malignant growth in his chest.
There are lots of tantalizing threads introduced in "Analog," and when Tif Harrison's staging goes for the emotional jugular, it can be downright thrilling. Trevor Dawkins nearly steals the show with his superhero-operatic depiction of Chiang's battle against his "life-size man-eating tumor," and his questioning of his friend's determination to fill his "weird serial-killer notebooks." But this journey inside one man's unusual way of processing an early life-and-death struggle doesn't quite bridge the gap between interior meditation and three-dimensional theatrical artifact, leaving us stranded on a narrative island filled with thematic clues that don't quite add up.
When: Through April 6
Where: Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Tickets: $20 at 773-275-5255 or neofuturists.orgCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times