Making a historical work about a great artist is a ballsy move because inevitably your work will be compared to the work of the artist’s. What Broke David Lynch? is no exception; if you’re making a play about David Lynch, you would expect the same fragmented, visceral, surreal style that you find through his work.
What Broke David Lynch? is a weird play to be sure. The show depicts David Lynch making the classic film The Elephant Man, and getting so stressed with making the costume he starts a relationship with an imaginary girlfriend.
This all sounds promising on paper. My main issue with the play is that 30% of the dialogue is movie trivia. Everyone talks in facts about Lon Chaney, Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Merrick and Lynch himself. There’s a whole scene where John Gieldgud and Anthony Hopkins talk about their favourite moments in Eraserhead. I don’t get it, perhaps I’m missing something, but, if I may offer my own movie trivia, when Roger Ebert was assigned to review Usual Suspects, he wrote one thing in his notepad – ‘to the extent I understand, I don’t care’.
There are glimpses of off-kilter humour that are very enjoyable. The guy that plays Mel Brooks wears a fez, holds a cigar, and wears a brown warehouse coat with all his movies written on it. Hurt and Gielgud take off giant papier-mâché heads of themselves when they enter the stage, and put them on again when they exit.
That stuff, the stuff you might actually see in a dream, I thought worked really well and wish there was more humour in that vein. The rest of the play I had trouble connecting with.
Lynch’s movies have a reputation for being impenetrable, when really they are quite simple and design to connect with you emotionally rather than intellectually. The weirdness of What Broke David Lynch?, rather than being a pathway to a deeper level of meaning, instead obscures whatever the play is trying to say.