High Fidelity – A joyful celebration of stupidity as healing. (Theatre Review)
Highway Run productions with Neil Gooding Productions
Hayes Theatre November 18 – December 17.
In his preface to Phenomenology, Hegel takes Schelling to task for suggesting stupidity is at the origin of being. But is not High Fidelity a flawless example of this very idea? Schelling posits a primitive, permeant chaos, an absence of intelligence that gives rise to intelligence. Fear of this notion has driven man to defense by moral reason. Stupidity as been evoked by many philosophers as similar to a lion pacing up and down a cage or the neurotic who renews a defensive reaction that has already proved futile in the past. For Horkheimer and Adorno stupidity is simultaneously an immobilizing force as unstoppable as pacing paralleling the repetitive mechanisms of neurotic retakes. Literature has been more inclined to deal with stupidity, often using it as a theme, genre or history. Famously, Flaubert crushes the free spirit of his heroine while Charles Bovary, the slow stupid learner, is the survivor. Whether in precincts of the literary or the psychological, stupidity offers a whirligig of intangibles: obstinate, tenacious, compactness, the uncleavable. A total loser, stupidity is also that which rules, reproducing itself in clichés, in a kind of innocence and also unassailable and the object of terrific violence. Stupidity feels often like a catch all, that broken down it becomes repression, bungled action, error blindness. But surely underneath all this is our own terror of being spared liability where stupidity is concerned. In each of us, and particularly in Rob’s (Toby Francis) case, there is an anxiety that I am a fugitive from stupidity who is on the verge of being caught (finally) by some smart bomb headed for my house.
High Fidelity is a celebration of the Schelling notion of stupidity. Rob will learn that shirking the mantle of a selfish stupidity has many rewards in its gift. But he can only discover his non-stupid position by being stupid in front of others. His other reveals his errors as well as his path beyond them. Laura (Teagan Wouters) has her own stupidity (best revealed through the character Ian (Nicholas Christo) who is his own stupidity) as do Barry (Joe Kosky) and Dick (Dash Kruck). High Fidelity is a firm celebration of error as Amanda Green (Lyrics) Tom Kitt (Music) and David Lindsay-Abaire (book) (and through them Nick Hornby) take great joy in the foolishness of he who learns. It’s fitting in all its glory, for Rob’s embarrassing journey, shrouded in the joie de vivre of excellent songs and superb choreography (by Cameron Mitchell) posits itself against Rob’s ennui and inertia. A startling and joyful dimension of High Fidelity the musical is director Neil Gooding’s energy and celebration of music itself. We sense this as contrary to Rob’s reluctance to engage deeply with life. Rob’s journey is a direct copy of Kant’s theory on the cheater: “It is true and sensible that I never again trust a man who has once cheated on me; for he is corrupt in his principles. But on that account, because one man has cheated on me, to trust nobody else is misanthropy. The cheater is actually the fool.” It can be argued that Rob’s foolishness paved the way for a healing crisis; making room for the convulsive contortions of a massive readjustment. Thus, Rob’s stupidity is more like a poetic action, imbued with resurrectionist desire, having great healing power over the stupid.
This journey from being stupid to being not-stupid is difficult to articulate and there is no doubt philosophy has let us down in this analysis. Literature takes up where philosophy left of, and in terms of the pop novel, High Fidelity is a kind of bildungsroman for the stupid, a blue print of learning for a man who is (traditionally) a little too old to be having the crises he experiences, but fortunately is clever enough to be able to wield his moment into a non-stupidity that he adopts and uses to try again with Laura. The irony is the celebration of Rob’s rather terrible moment; the thrilling energy of the songs, the mojo of the choreography and direction and the reminder of the music, that easy pleasure that takes us through the complications of life. We are left wondering if Rob’s dilemma is as bad as he is experiencing – and that of course, is the point.
This production of High Fidelity is one of the best you will see. Perfectly capturing the misery and unwavering life-lust of Rob’s dilemma, Director Neil Gooding makes a thrilling, joyful show out of Nick Hornby’s (possibly labored) point. The production is very enjoyable, giving off the spark of happiness that eludes Rob so painfully. Toby Frances is excellent as the titular Rob, the ridiculous everyman who can’t see himself until he sees others. Teagan Wouters is marvelous as the long-suffering Laura, making a thrilling ride of a part that was initially written with a salvation angel stereotype. Zoe Gertz is a standout as the torn-between-two best friend Liz, making her every appearance a joy to watch. Joe Kosky as Barry and Dash Kruck as Dick make the parts their own, away from their famous film archetypes, and make much of all their key lines and opportunities to shine. A shout out to Jenni Little, Erin Clare, Madison Hegarty, Denise Devlin and Bronte Florian who make up the Greek chorus of long suffering women condemned to being Rob’s various ex’s. These women are marvelous in bringing life and character to their difficult roles – something the women in the film struggled with – striking in their individuality and spark. They and their fellow creatives have saved High Fidelity for me, a book and film that were always on the nose, and turned it into something I could laugh at and really enjoy.
High Fidelity at the Hayes theatre is a marvelous night of enthusiastic fun, and a great opportunity to see ourselves in the celebrated silliness of other characters. It’s warm, funny and devoted to music. Above all Toby Frances actually makes Nick Hornby’s Rob pleasant and fun to watch, and I thought that was an impossible feat. Go and take all your friends and have a wonderful night. It’s on until December 17.