Ones By 2: Fallujah and The Invention of Zero
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
August 18, 2009
Ones by 2 is an evening of two one-act plays written and performed by high school students from Greens Farms Academy in Connecticut. But don't be misled—this performance is as thought-provoking, well-directed and performed, and interesting as any "adult" show in FringeNYC.
Fallujah, written by Rebecca McCarthy, is about a soldier, Jack, who has come back from Iraq physically and emotionally wounded, and the unexpected visit he receives from Annie, his best friend from high school.
The Invention of Zero, by Deepali Gupta, is about Julian, a mathematician, who can only respond "I know" when his longtime girlfriend tells him she loves him. He views himself as a "zero," and no matter what other number he is multiplied by, he will just turn it into a zero.
These plays are expertly and subtly written. During each one I had a moment where I honestly didn't know what was going to happen next—they defy formula and resist too much exposition. In the first scene of Fallujah we see Jack's parents—they mention Jack's disability (without divulging it specifically) and the fact that he hasn't left the house, but mainly, well, mainly they seem to be upset about coffee. Is there any left? It's too cold. Is there any milk for the coffee? It's not that they are bad parents—they just can't talk about Jack. Both plays exhibit a remarkable, and somewhat unsettling, insight into human nature.
The focus of both plays is on characters who are unable to open up to the world—characters who are lost, isolated, jaded, and, no matter how surrounded by people they are, alone. It speaks directly to the zeitgeist—as we are inundated by technologies that allow us to talk to one another, our ability to really communicate with another human is harder than ever before.
All of the characters are substantially older than the teenage actors playing them. In the talkback following the performance I attended, teacher/director Stephen Stout said that he encourages his students to keep it simple, keep it something they can relate to. And if the histrionics come, fine, but don't start there. The result is this incredible honesty—rather than having the three parental characters hobbling about with wrinkles drawn across their face (as I feel my, and most, high schools would have done) they keep it easy and real. The performance becomes not about people of different ages, but people—individuals. It is about the characters' souls and minds, as filtered and understood through this rising generation. The exceedingly diligent and talented ensemble includes Caroline Jamison, Maxwell Johnson, Elizabeth Woodson, Oliver Corbishley, Kevin Tyler, Sophia Babun, and Kelly Kern. Will Boudreau's live improvised acoustic/blues guitar music perfectly fits the mood of the performance and it is clear this talented musician will go far.
"Quisque Pro Omnibus, Each for All" is Greens Farms Academy's motto and it was palpable every moment. This remarkable ensemble of students was always working for each other—it was a joy to watch such selfless, honest actors. This is what all theatre education should be. Stout's students are talented, professional, giving, creative, and hardworking and this was a truly unique, inspiring performance.