October 18, 2008

Round 1: Never swim alone

Tonight was the first play of the school year that I've managed to go to. (Last week's improv was apparently "sold out" more than a half hour before showtime, so I missed it.) Never swim alone is a three-person one-act about rivalry and life choices, with a few interesting dramatic conceits to carry it along.

The only real set-piece is a big lifeguard tower (very tall—maybe twelve feet) on which sits a "referee" judging a series of short contests between the two lead actors on things like mode of dress, death-scene acting ability, and others. The actors spend most of this time speaking in unison or handing off lines to each other, so effectively that I found myself losing track of who was actually saying lines at different points. The characters were very much alike. These scenes were interspersed—in a way that reminded me of noh-kyogen although the parallel isn't really very strong—with monologues by the "winner" of each round, usually one-upping the other but always exposing a bit more of the character. The characters turned out to be totally different.

What was truly remarkable about the performance was how well the leads (Jay Robillard, who I've seen before, and Jack Dryden, who appears to be a promising freshman, already declared as a theatre major) managed to sync up their unison stuff. Right down to a matching "heh heh heh" when laughing at their own/each other's jokes. In one scene they aren't in unison monologue, they're each giving a rapid-fire speech to their side of the audience—each describing failings of the other's father, alleging a like-father-like-son similarity, though the similarity seemed to run closer to their own lives—and these speeches lined up one phrase in every other sentence or so. Late in the show, when the referee comes down from the tower and becomes a girl from their past, all three have a scene where the word rhythms are so planned that I suspect that the script had the parts written out in a musical staff (and if it didn't, it should have). All of this made the piece technically difficult in a rather unusual way; I can't imagine how much time they had to spend practicing.

The play was a good choice for the studio, both because it had the interesting technical stuff going on and because it leaves the audience at the end of the show thinking, "holy crap what just happened?", something that doesn't work as well with more general audiences. I was glad to be able to debrief the play with a few students I knew in the audience, to get the gist of what "the other guy" was saying in the rapid-fire "and his father" speech and then generally to work out what had happened and who was lying about what. (Oh, did I mention? Unreliable narrators, too.)

So yeah, a good start to the year.

Blessed are the ones who make peace
Blessed are the ones who scrape by
Blessed are the ones living holy lives;
here's to the rest of us who try.... --The Roches, "Jesus shaves"

Posted by blahedo at 11:55pm on 18 Oct 2008
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