The Director's Reality: A Showcase
nytheatre.com review by Megin Jimenez
July 14, 2008
The Director's Reality presents a collection of four short plays intended to spotlight the shaping of a distinct dramatic vision, the process that makes up the director's art. The production's program offers the definition of the "reality" of theatre as "that blurred line between fact and fiction" that can "skew ideas and beliefs," introducing the four directors as "redefining the definition of fact and fiction" in these works. A lofty goal indeed—fuzzy verbiage that sounds suspiciously like the talk of theatre arts students several bottles of wine into a post-rehearsal gathering—and the result is, not surprisingly, an evening resembling a final thesis presentation.
Directing is often a thankless task, no doubt—when the director excels, all of the many parts that make up a production seem like they could not possibly have taken any other form. The thousands of choices made in rehearsal fade: every actor seems perfectly cast, the lighting is unobtrusive, the staging is natural. Of the four works, The Claw of the Schwa (directed by Michael Schwartz) achieves this seamless magic. The story of an affair between a linguistics student (played with charming earnestness by Ari Brand) and his flawlessly vocalizing professor (sultry and hilarious Lija Fisher) rolls along at a delightful pace, thanks in great part to Zach Udko's fantastic script. The actors gracefully evoke quick scene changes—from classroom to British Museum to posh apartment—using just a table and a couple of chairs (as well as the help of Maggie Surovell as a chorus of characters). By the end of the short piece, the company have pulled off a sexy inquiry into the eroticism of language, with some well-deserved laughs along the way.
One of the director's major functions involves managing the energy on stage between actors and the energy given to the audience. Two of these plays take on communicating the exchange of power between characters. In Mug (written by Matthew Jellison and directed by Aaron Gonzalez), the tables turn between a mugger and his intended victim. The staging in particular enacts this power play through physical proximity between attacker and victim; the line of energy between the two actors in the piece is almost palpable as the distance between them shrinks and grows, continuously redefining the relationship at hand. In Mondays at Eight (written by Linda Giuliano, directed by Laura Credidio) a quick-tempered man waiting for the bus is upended by an encounter with a curious and gregarious developmentally disabled woman. While actor Julie Cotton makes a valiant effort to establish an appropriate voice and mannerisms, it is hard to get beyond the cliched situation of the happy, low-IQ charmer providing a special insight to the harried curmudgeon. Given the short length of the piece, the "stop-and-smell-the-roses" transformation is ultimately unconvincing.
Length is also an issue in Shuffle (written by Erica Schreiber). While the scenario is intriguing—a suicide facing her boyfriend and best friends in a kind of purgatory poker game—the ensuing high drama presents an intense challenge for four actors to achieve in the space of 20 minutes or so. The piece seems tailor-made to cull dramatic monologues for auditions, but on its own, as directed by Jessica McVea, does not transport anywhere beyond the feeling of watching actors speaking lines on a stage.
On the whole, The Director's Reality provides a view into process, a taste of the director's toolbox, a mixed bag of possibilities.