Assessment | Matt Talbott’s ‘Reptile’ in Santa Barbara

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The poster for Reptile, Matt Talbott’s new one-person present, depicts the actor’s face in close-up with one half coated in reasonable scales like some swamp factor. If it means that the efficiency shall be a horror present, that’s a minimum of partly true. Though Reptile just isn’t, actually, a stay theater model of a monster film, it does search to disclose what’s monstrous beneath the facade of American historical past. Talbott, the son of a UCSB professor whose analysis included research of Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century struggle, is aware of quite a bit about American historical past and much more about what lurks behind the classroom buzzwords like “compromise” that search to obscure its darker particulars. In a efficiency that lasts a little bit over an hour, Talbott weaves collectively his personal expertise with a sharply written and broad indictment of American historical past and the American current, scales and all.

Credit score: Courtesy

Whereas there’s by no means a doubt that Talbott has the products on such damning episodes as slavery and local weather change denial, his place within the lineup of perpetrators renders his monologue problematic in locations. He’s up in opposition to one of many hardest rhetorical challenges of the jeremiad style, which is the “forged the primary stone” paradox. How does somebody conscious of their complicity in such social evils as white supremacy go about denouncing it? It’s much like the dilemma confronted by former slave merchants who went on to turn into barnstorming abolitionists — how will you successfully revile the stuff you as soon as did?

On the one hand, how will you not? However on the opposite, the place do you start? For Talbott, the origin of his private redemption story lies within the contradictions he skilled as a child rising up in Santa Barbara after which Princeton. His experiences as a public college scholar gave him an uncomfortable sense of widespread hypocrisy whereas he was participating in bullying habits. His account of the decimation of his gang of white associates by smaller but harder Latinx children in an ill-conceived rumble in a drainage tunnel brings a few of the night time’s largest laughs, however it additionally reveals what’s on the present’s troubled coronary heart — a responsible conscience.

There’s no doubting Talbott’s facility with language and historical past. There’s minimal repetition for a present this bold, and the factors he makes are vivid and clear. But because the matters change, Talbott’s tone and the present’s depth keep the identical. The villains of the piece are simple to determine, however is that every one there’s to the story? We get that Talbott was dissatisfied in his Third-grade trainer, however I’m much less comfy along with his mocking model of her than he appears to be. Wherever this highly effective present goes subsequent, I hope it consists of extra of what it already affords, which is the squirming self-consciousness that comes with realizing that one is a little bit scaly.

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