Wading Through Spam Searching for Meaning


rafael spregelburd & zypce

In Rafael Spregelburd’s SPAM, which plays as part of the 7 Monologues Series at the 2015 LuminaTO Festival, a Neapolitan professor and linguist suffers a serious head injury and wakes up with temporary amnesia in a hotel room in Malta wearing an ill-fitting tuxedo, with a collection of giant talking Barbie dolls, still in their boxes, and no recollection of who he is or what has brought him to this juncture. His world has been blown to bits, as dramatized by a leaf blower scattering the days of the calendar, and our professor, in his chaos and desperation, shares with us short snippets over thirty one days, but not chronologically, presumably mirroring how his memory is coming in and out of focus.

The only thing the audience knows for certain about this linguist professor, beyond his amnesia, is that according to the one personal email in his account he is being accused of stealing the premise of a thesis about the Eskimos from one of his former students, a woman by the name of Cassandra. His email account is also filled with Spam, including several advertisements for enlarging the size of his penis, and at least one bank account scam in which a Malaysian girl is asking for help against an abusive uncle and needs him to transfer her money and access to his bank account as soon as possible, with promise of a reward in the millions of dollars for his trouble and good faith.

We see the professor cobbling together his identity and his past based entirely on what he is able to find in his pockets, in his possession and on the Internet and the lines between the truth and fabrication quickly blur, as fabrications build on fabrications and hypotheses from one day are later assumed as facts. At the same time, we are told about an ancient civilization that became obsessed with creating new words for the meaning between two other words. And thus, words filled the sides of all the buildings, and beaches became dictionaries for words carved in sand, as more and more obscure words that would hardly ever be required in conversation, spilled onto every free space leaving the society vulnerable to attack, for all its soldiers had become scribes. We are also introduced to a foul-mouthed doll, made in China, presumably in a translation accident. While the connections between the doll, the dead language full of unspoken words, the Email Spam and the amnesia are not entirely clear, the overarching idea seems to be that there is a fragility in words, that they are so integral for us to construct the way we see ourselves, the stories of our lives, and the World around us, but that they also so often can lead us astray. Words can be lost and tossed out and lose their meaning, they can become useless junk, like something that has been poorly translated and no longer makes any sense. There is an additional layer added to this linguistics puzzle in Toronto considering that Spregelburd performs in Spanish and most of us are at the mercy of subtitles to fully comprehend what he is saying. We may even ask ourselves if the English words adequately capture the essence of the Spanish ones, or are we only getting an approximate sense of meaning in the play?

All of this is also layered with an elaborate soundscape by by Zypce, which also contributes to a sense that this professor’s mind has become a strange jumble of pieces of music, of fragments of sound and interactions, many as insignificant as Spam, now taking on profound significance as the professor looks for meaning in everything. In each performance Spregelburd shows his audience a different configuration of thirty one possible scenes, in a random order, which means that we are always left with missing puzzle pieces and the absence of the answer to “but what really happened?” Leaving the audience without a neatly packaged conclusion mirrors nicely the disconnect and chaos of the contemporary world, still, there is room for the story to be tightened up around these themes more clearly so that the immediacy of why this story needs to be told today to us in Toronto is more apparent.

Spam, which played as part of the 7 Monologues Series at LuminaTO has closed, but the LuminaTO Festival continues until June 28. Please visit this website for more information.