‘A Trivial Pursuit’ reads into familiar realities

As audience members filed into the Directing Studio at the ’62 Center last weekend, Jesse Gordon ’10 handed each of them a card from a game of Trivial Pursuit – an introduction to the play he wrote, titled A Trivial Pursuit, for his senior honors project. Though the cards themselves were essentially conversation starters and souvenirs, the play itself proved thought provoking.

Under the direction of Eva Flamm ’10, the staged reading of a playwright writing his play became just as lively as if fully acted. Though they sat in the same position for the entire time, the characters’ glares, gestures and tones left no room for boredom or stagnation. At first, the play’s format was slightly confusing: Playwright, stage manager and actors all addressed the audience. Realizing that the characters were acting out the playwright’s script as he edited it, I grew to appreciate its unique structure as the play went on.

The playwright Andy Lipowitz, played by Mike Leon ’11, struggled to incorporate originality into the amusing plot of his play. He interjected refreshingly honest commentary into his own script. One couldn’t help wondering if the concerns he raised about writing theater reflected Gordon’s own thoughts.

Gordon’s play presented thought-provoking questions. His scenes often involved a reference to a major theme, aptly suiting its nature as a thesis project. Does art have to be original to be good? Are our lives simply modified versions of the ones we see portrayed in film and television? Aren’t all the stories in romantic comedies the same? But no matter how much people make fun of “rom com” cheesiness, they still pay to see them. Gordon’s work confesses that there is evidently something attractive about the clichéd.

The piece examined typical romantic comedy using a different approach. Lipowitz admits in the beginning that he loves romantic comedies: “The only people that don’t love romantic comedies are children and assholes … pretentious assholes.” While writing his script, Lipowitz toyed with the balance between quality and originality. If his characters were happy and their actions entertaining, he reasoned with himself, that could be enough to render his play worthwhile.

Though Lipowitz’s invented plot follows typical ones, his characters’ acknowledgment of their unoriginality separates it from most other romantic comedies. John, the self-pitying, heartbroken writer, played by Noah Schechter ’12, meets (at a local coffee shop, of course) an attractive woman named Claire (Chloe Brown ’10) but is too depressed over his ex-girlfriend to court her. Meanwhile Peter (Joe Lorenz ’10), the classic comedic best friend, badgers John about getting out and getting over his ex. Bickering and volleyed insults reveal their bromance. Peter confesses time after time that he truly understands what John is going through because John’s problems are so typical.

The conversations between Peter and John throughout the play were strikingly similar to their first, and yet the dialogue never sounded redundant or overused. In part, this was due to their hilarious one-liners and the amusing nature of the male-male interactions. Their effectiveness also drew from John and Peter’s explicit recognition of their inability to discuss a different topic. Their tediously repeated sentiments caused the audience members to question their own relationships; we wonder if our lives, conversations and relationships are as trivial and repetitive as theirs.

John’s interactions with Claire also revealed Gordon’s skill at recreating familiar dynamics. Witty banter and insults over compliments, intensified by the chemistry between Schechter and Brown, poked fun at flirtations that the audience could relate to. Besides clever dialogue, Gordon’s piece evidenced a sophisticated sense of humor and brazenness as an artist in its blatant use of questionable material. Sacrificing political correctness for entertaining lines, Gordon ignored social taboos about race and bluntly included men’s “inappropriate” jokes. Gordon’s script connected to the audience through racy beliefs that people may often be too embarrassed to admit they find funny.

The success of Trivial Pursuit was somewhat ironic. Its script mocked pretentious “artiness” in the media, especially through Lipowitz’s character and his split between originality and superficiality. Gordon’s play, a hilarious and intellectual commentary on these conflicts of clichés in art, seemed like something Lipowitz would ridicule. This inherent comical hypocrisy only exemplified Gordon’s entertaining and thought-provoking qualities. The way Lipowitz’s characters, his own feedback and the fantastical intersection of the two worlds fit into Gordon’s play was engaging and, perhaps more importantly, original.