By Wendell He ’26
On November 30th, student playwright and director Micah Pflaum ’23 presented a staged reading of his new play, Destination Unknown, in Studio B of the theater. The show is roughly an hour long, taking the audience through a fantastic journey within an elevator.
Alex, a nervous college student, is trying to get to his friend Teo’s radio show. However, the elevator that is supposed to be taking him there stops and moves to random places, with people coming in and out, and it seems it will never reach the correct floor. During Alex’s journey, he meets Dan, a suspicious man in a suit, Agent Silver, who is tracking Dan, a joyous elevator traveler named Tam, a DJ with a story about vampires, and other unusual characters. But he just cannot seem to find his friend Teo and the radio station. However, the more people Alex meets, the more information he gets; the mysterious organization known as The Seagulls, the agents of The Bureau, and the worlds that are connected by the elevator all have their own rules. He even finds his own reflection from another reality – Lex. At first, Alex doesn’t want to accept Lex’s relation to him, but finally they come to understand each other and escape from the Bureau with the help of Lex’s friends Celeste and Trash Bot. Finally, Alex decides to figure out his own destination – navigating to the roof garden to get some breath and enjoy the view – just as Tam suggested at the very beginning.
Throughout the play, it is implied that most of the people connected to the elevator are escaping something from the real world. That may explain why Alex is there, as his fear and self-doubt about being on the radio show is clear from his behavior. He confides in Tam about his stage fright, and how much he hopes that Teo can rely on him. Even though Teo has reassured him many times, Alex is still too afraid of making mistakes, which gives him the unconscious intention to escape to the elevator and its unknown destinations.
However, the fear of failure is probably not the only thing that Alex wants to escape from. During the play, it becomes clear that Alex is conflicted about his sexuality. Even as he describes the sexy voice of Teo and the hot eyeliner of Agent Silver, he is unwilling to realize his feelings consciously. However, Lex, as Alex’s reflection, begins to help him do so. For instance, after Lex and Alex suddenly kiss, Lex says he would never regret kissing Alex. The moment when they kiss each other is exactly the moment when they start to accept the existence of each other and accept themselves. After that happens, Alex starts to open up to himself and acknowledge that his sexuality could be more nuanced than he thought. Many of the characters Alex meets, such as Agent Silver, Lex, and Trash Bot, expand Alex’s views on sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression. The dialogue about whether Alex is gay or not between him and a pair of ancient poets does not only serve as a spot of humor for the audience, but also a reflection for Alex to rediscover himself. The whole play is both a physical and spiritual journey for Alex. After this trip in the elevator is done, Alex’s acceptance of himself is shown the end as he asks Lex “Will I see you again?”.
Many of the different characters are played by the same actors, but the arrangement never confuses the audience, as each character is so distinct. The impressive transformation between the characters of Trash Bot and Dan is an example, as the use of a rolling chair or a suit by the actor makes the two separate characters clear to the audience. Micah Pflaum also uses Trash Bot to express the fluidity of gender. Trash Bot is not sure whether it wants a gender, which highlights that people should not treat gender as such an important feature that one possessed. Everyone has their own right to decide who they are and should have a chance to find acceptance and discover their own destination as Alex does. The elevator connects different times, different spaces, and different worlds. But these people are still gathering together for a similar reason, to escape from societal restrictions and live in this strange but beautiful world forever. As Celeste notes, they no longer wish to go back. This shows that our society’s judgements of people who are different is a concern that should be given more attention. Micah uses their playwriting to make a voice for these characters by creating a utopia for them where they can truly be themselves.
This is a story about discovering and accepting oneself, which could certainly provide illumination for those who are still struggling with their self-identification. Micah’s play is not only fantastic and interesting, but also filled with humanitarian care that perfectly represents the gist of theater – bringing people happiness as well as education. May all of you find the destination of yours.