Review: Jimmy Stewart, an Anthropologist from Mars, Analyses Love and Happiness in Humans (and Rabbits), Battersea Arts Centre
Jimmy Stewart, that handsome Hitchcockian everyman, is a Martian. At least, that’s what Tassos Stevens would have us believe in this intriguingly dotty piece of storytelling. Why, you ask? Well, Stewart was held to make acting look effortless, but, inwardly, felt it rather harder than all that. From this disconnect, Stevens explains, he concluded that he must be an alien with the outward appearance of a human.
Believing love to be the most human trait of all, Jimmy sets out to understand its ways in a pseudo-scientific ethnographic study. The term itself is ineffable or, to follow Willard Quine as Stevens does, suffers from “an indeterminacy of translation.” While we can understand the word individually, we can’t fully communicate it without relying on one another’s analogous experiences. You only really know it when you feel it.
Given that each of us feels it differently, then, Stewart’s theory starts by assuming that love is defined by consensus. Where better to start, then, than with famous love songs; with funny feelings inside, eternal flames and three coins in the fountain.
Over a series of encounters – both with humans and talking rabbits – Stewart’s theory develops. Love becomes a combination of opposing forces, gravity and levity, which can be measured in Chakkas; one Chakka being a perfect balance of the two. To be ‘in’ love is, he believes, more potent than pure love, since one can love someone having fallen out of love with them. Perhaps love is mere narcissicism as lovers trade atoms through frictional contact and end up seeing themselves in their partner.
This is where Jimmy Stewart… is best, offering a gently nonsensical but meticulous philosophy of love that manages to be both cute and acute at once. It is as much about love as about language; a point elevated by Stevens’ employment of a synaesthetic sound system, which is, essentially, a soundtrack of surtitles that conjures noise through words alone. ‘Glenn Miller. His Band. On the radio. Reception Choppy.’ ‘A breeze, like a startled dog.’ Here, description is enough to summon the sounds. Why don’t those assorted metaphors, similes and clichés do likewise for love?
The question, however, is whether all this might work better reformatted as a lecture, rather than wrapped up in a surreal narrative that tends towards wilful obscurity. Though Stevens makes a warm-hearted, rumbling narrator, its hard to keep pace with his narrative and even harder to see through its indistinct motives. Instead you alight on moments and morsels, scraps of delightfully piquant thought. The result feels more a ramble than a carefully plotted route and, while that’s no bad thing in and of itself, it lacks that certain transformative something, that moment that punctures through and makes sense of the whole by revealing an overarching purpose (or two).
Image: Tassos Stevens