One enters an inconspicuous side entrance, and after walking down some rubber coated steps and across a blotchy tiled floor, finds a room with rows of folding chairs and a stage in front. Such an entrance befits the path to an AA meeting in some community center’s basement or the third semiannual meeting of the “You could have sworn it really was meat society” in an unused crevice of a local parish, but instead, one finds good theater.
Produced by Chris Ronai ’00 and Seth Earn ’01 and presented by Cap and Bells, Two Chairs and a Box consisted of six short vignettes, which were performed Friday and Saturday nights in the Studio Theatre.
The name of the production wasn’t misleading. Little more than two chairs and a box were ever on the stage; there was occasional screen, but the landscape remained stark throughout with the entire set, save the chairs, painted black. The open set freed the pieces, allowing both the actors and directors the maximum space in which to work. In this group of productions, to some degree, space defined the impact of each vignette.
“Reality Strikes Again,” a play written and directed by Eric Powers ’02, opened the evening. In “Reality,” two men meet, insult each other’s weight, argue, wait for things that do not come that they do not understand, and finally realize where they really are. The unraveling of the absurd relationship that exists between these two men creates ample opportunities for laughter. Both Andrew Deichman ’01 and Jason Greenberg ’01 gave over-the-top performances that, although often grotesque with exaggerated British accents and gestures, fit with the overall sentiment of the play and at most times served as an excellent medium for the hilarity.
Next, Dana Nelson ’02 directed “Yesterday’s Window” by Chiori Miyagawa. The play focuses on the relationship between a woman and her daughter as they face the harsh realities of the past and the uncertainties of the future. Yesterday is a much bigger part of the mother’s life than her daughter’s, but the reverse is true about dreams. Therefore, the daughter’s comments serve a pseudo-chorus, providing commentary on the mother.
Throughout the play, a deliveryman appears with what the mother may or may not desire. Carrie Jones ’02, as the daughter, and Ian Lockhart ’02, as the deliveryman, both gave excellent performances. Jennifer Sawaya ’02, as the mother, delivered her lines with sweetness and poise; at times she was poignant, but she was not always consistent. The use of space was particularly striking in this play, as certain types of interactions would only occur on certain areas of the stage. This helped organize the play, which contained many elements that did not adhere to any strict spatial or temporal conventions.
A mad procession of characters, none of which directly interact with each other, comprises “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” written by Jane Wagner and directed by Jessica McLeod ’02. Exploding onto the stage with Heather Brutz ’02, as Agnus Angst, who declaims society as we know it, the play is a series of monologues in which each character represents the absurdity of life. Often, the script was a torrent of delightfully cynical one liners, funny but not too deep.
Then, in the second to last scene, three characters take the stage to deliver interconnecting monologues. Wagner spaced the text so that it fills in the details of the characters’ shared past from the three different perspectives. The characters roughly fit into three categories that followed their level of self-awareness and their ability to deal with the absurdity of life. However, one character transcended these categories: Trudy, the bag lady. Played by Maya Garcia ’02, Trudy realizes that she is crazy. She communes with aliens who are having in search of intelligent life forms and are having a hard time finding any. She brings happiness to the other characters, and for the most part, is happy herself because she has embraced the absurdity of life.
In “Little Murders” by Jules Feiffer and directed by Kari Sutherland ’01, a newlywed couple quickly learns the ins and outs of marriage. Alfred, played by Ethan Rutherford ’02, is in a trance-like state, his primary defense mechanism, at the beginning of the play. Patsy, Michelle Smith ’02, has been in control her entire life, and Alfred has retreated from control. Together, the two find middle ground. Passion, distance, irony, tenderness. Rutherford’s performance embodied all these qualities, combining them to make for a great performance.
“This Property is Condemned” by Tennessee Williams and directed by Darci Powell ’02 followed. It consisted of a dialogue between a girl and a boy, who were straddling the line between childhood and adulthood. The boy, Steve Gray ’00, and the girl, Allessandra Stewart ’02, meet by the railroad tracks in the middle of a school day. He has skipped in order to fly his kite. She has dropped out of school and is walking along the track.
When they meet, she smiles wide as she chortles about her life. The boy asks her questions, sometimes shaping the dialogue, but the focus of the play is always the girl. The adult world looms ominously over her childlike exuberance in relating the stories. Certain motifs: a song, a story and the phrase “the sky is as white as a clean piece of paper” reinforce Williams’ themes throughout the play.
Stewart gave an enthusiastic and fairly convincing portrayal of the girl, although at times, her arm-flailing gestures and attitude toward childhood seemed artificial. Steve Gray, despite almost being a second audience, offered a convincing performance.The final piece of the night, “The Midlife Crisis of Dionysus” was directed by Jennifer Eames ’01 and was written by Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame.
The title is indicative of the play’s general idea. Dionysis, played wonderfully by Greenberg, finds he has to change his wine-drinking and boar-gorging lifestyle when he turns fifty from immortal. It is a hilarious play and was full of good performances. Greenberg played the role of the deposed god with great stage presence, realizing the comic possibilities of the role. The rest of the cast, Caroline Messmer ’02, Sarah Hart ’02, Elizabeth Collier ’00 and Mayur Deshmukh ’01, gave strong performances. Deshmukh was particularly hilarious in his zany string of roles.
Despite occasional lapses in intensity or direction, Two Chairs and a Box presented a thoroughly enjoyable evening of performances. The quality and diversity of the plays, produced by relatively young casts, bodes well for the future of theatre at Williams.