Saturday, January 14, 2012

Friday Night, The Second Half

Please forgive the lateness of this post, I stayed at ACT blogging till they kicked me out last night, and then was too locked out of my house to get the following finished and posted from home.

At any rate, the ten-thirty show was packed and tremendous.


Nick Stokes' "Hold" is by my interpretation (and it's quite open for interpretation) an abstract look at man-woman relationships and needs, namely the common need to be held.

The three female roles are anthropomorphized natural entities, one the earth, one the sky, one the cosmos. The mystery of a strange box is pondered and discussed in heightened, philosophical, and poetic terms, each of the 'elements' offering a unique take on its importance, value, and sanctity. Naturally, necessarily, it is eventually opened. When a man emerges from the box there develops a shared fascination with him, various yearnings for him, and he expresses an infatuation with each of the entities in turn.

The eventual discovery of the play is that as soon as The Entity is possessed it is corrupted, that the valley filled is no longer a valley (the euphemism must be deliberate). The distances between ourselves and the things we desire and persistent, torturous, and necessary. I think it's a lovely and sad thing to contemplate.

To my surprise, "Hold" was met with emphatic laughter, presumably for an uber-artsy aesthetic that drives it into the realm of parody (though I don't particularly hear this quality in the text). Regardless, Stokes offers some beautiful words, idea and images, and a lovely little play to contemplate.


Our evening's two-person offering, "Fourth Wall," featured two tour guides at a zoo who, in describing enclosed animals and plants, are quick to project their own qualities, faults, fears, and ambitions. In doing so they reveal too much about themselves to their captive audience, both guides consequently coming off as quirky, neurotic, and delightfully damaged or troubled.

Overhearing one another's strange (terrible) tours, the tour guides cannot resist launching into conversation, wherein each becomes an object of simultaneous interest, irritation, and infatuation to the other. When they, in comedic earnestness, begin to drive at the heart of their differences, they become painfully and simultaneously aware of the overbearing influence of The Human Resources Lady (the playwright), who treats them mutually like pawns, disregards their potentials, subjects them to lives of duress and servitude.

The wall to an animal enclosure is represented by the fourth wall of the theater, the beasts and brutality of the predatory, 'real' human world by the audience. Resolving no longer to be characters in a drama they're suddenly painfully aware they're in, their thoughts and movements plotted, but to become dynamic and empowered people, the two conspire to face the brutality of reality, to penetrate the fourth wall, and in doing so escape the tyranny of the play. Very meta. Very funny. Very good and endearing.


The last play of the evening, "Two Lukes," concerns five high schoolers rehearsing a Greek tragedy for a class assignment. When one of their classmate/collaborators, Luke, is unable to make rehearsal he sends a friend, also named Luke, to rehearse in his stead. I'm not sure why it's a point of confusion or particular interest for the kids that there is a second Luke at Ballard High School, or why the point is so frequently returned-to. Regardless, we are reminded severally that there are indeed two Lukes at Ballard High School.

The "replacement Luke" is awkward, conventionally nerdy, germaphobic; he possesses all the telling qualities of the high school pariah. He purports to want to rehearse with these other kids, yet doesn't seem to want to be there, and attempts to fabricate excuses to leave almost as soon as he arrives. I'm left with the definite sense with this play that there's something intended in the writing that I didn't catch. Maybe the whole thing was meant to be absurd, but didn't commit enough to the world to come through clearly.

A first high point of the play is the high schoolers' line readings of the tragedy, which are deliciously clunky, mispronounced, insufferable. Some classic and familiar elements of bad theater are put on parade, and poked fun of. It's cringe-inducing and playful.

A second high point is the blood ritual with which the play ends (overt absurdism): Luke becomes overstimulated, passes out, and is ritualistically smeared by his peers with blood. It's a surprise, a visual treat (all the troubleshooting with the lights during tech really paid off), and a head-scratcher.

The sum total of the show: several strong performances onstage, some very clever dialogue (in high school colloquial, of course), some lovely and disturbing visuals, and a bit of a meandering premise.


With that I've written at some length about each of Friday's seven shows. I'll be at ACT all day today and late into the night, so do come down and I'll buy you a beer. Or you can buy me one. Or you can just come to the show and the subsequent party and we can not acknowledge one another at all.

More thoughts to come over the course of today, tonight, tomorrow.

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