Note From Jon


Thursday, January 17, 2008

You Don't Know Until You've Tried

Chock another one up for Facebook. I believe the official tally is now 4–1 . Despite my previous contempt for all things FaceSpace-y, it has helped hone my vocabulary and geography skills , reconnected me with friends of decades past—including most recently, the Prince from my Indonesian dancing photo, who I’d published an article about, one that he may have been unaware of… until now (gulp)—and now Facebook led me to the best one-(wo)man play I’ve ever seen, The K of D by Laura Schellhardt.

I actually haven’t given anything away yet because it was the first one-person show I’ve seen. Never seeing a one-person show isn’t from lack of theatre exposure actually; I was quite the thespian in high school and even co-wrote a show. I guess it is like when people don’t like food… that they’ve never tried, or how I didn’t like Facebook… before I joined. I didn’t like one-person plays… and so I never went to see one.

Facebook changed that in a rather unusual way; I stumbled across the “Are YOU Interested?” app on several of my friends’ profiles, and decided to try it. While the app is probably one of the worst executed on Facebook, it serves its purpose of connecting you to people you wouldn’t otherwise have an excuse to talk to (without being a stalker). The app lets you browse through women (or men, if you are into that sort of thing) who are interested in finding out if you are interested in them (well interested in their photo at least since that’s all you get—unless you take the time to look up her their profile outside of the app). From the amount of participants who list themselves as being in a relationship (or married) I’m thinking the app may be viewed more as an ego booster than a tool to connect people. Nonetheless, as I clicked through photos I came across one that was clearly taken on stage, and which looked vaguely familiar. Her name was Kimberly Gilbert, and I’d seen an advertisement for her show during last week’s theatrical frenzy.

After confirming where I knew the photo from, I contacted her to offer encouragement for the ambitious project she was undertaking… to spend two hours alone on stage performing all fifteen characters. She sent a friendly (if self-promoting) message back and since I didn’t have specific plans during tonight’s Pay-What-You-Can performance I decided to put aside my prejudices against one-person plays and hope that it would be more like trying mussels for the first time the other day (pleasant) than clams (which taste exactly how I always imagined—sometimes you can know you don’t like a food without tasting it)

As it turns out, you do need to be in line by 6:15 for PWYC performances at Woolly Mammoth… and my 6:30 arrival was one person too late to get the last of the tickets. But Laura (my friend, not the playwright) was sport enough to wait for the half hour until we’d know if any of the reserved production tickets would be available. Eventually we were told that the production tickets were all used, that there wouldn’t be any more, and that the best they could do was half-price tickets to a show in a couple of weeks. We only stuck around to phone James with the bad news… which turned out to be just long enough for them to come up with two (though not three) of the tickets we wanted. James sacrificed to stay longer at work and so Laura and I filed in with the last two tickets to the sold out show…

“This could either be really good… or really bad” Laura commented, echoing my thoughts as the lights went down. I just hoped it was funny at least. And why wouldn’t it be funny; after all, let’s see, it’s a show about a girl whose brother dies… uh oh.

I know, I know, after a ridiculously long lead-in even by my standards… what did I think of the freakin’ show already!?! I loved it. Read her blog. Go see it. I have no reservations about this show (unlike the previous show, Nutshell, at Woolly Mammoth that I discovered I’d seen Kimberly in). Then, come back and read the rest of this entry because a) it might contain spoilers and b) remaining in a sitting position as long as you’d need to read this could result in an air embolism when you stand up.

As I mentioned Kimberly plays all 15 characters who take part in this urban legend set in a small town in western Ohio. A town which is described as [having drive-in movie theatres… which are closed because not enough people drive in, and having drive-thru liquor stores… which don’t have that problem]. Yay! It was going to be funny. But even funny shows, actually especially funny shows, can be terrible when they suddenly get serious. And while there were quite a few serious moments, they were never jarring, and they were quite often poignant. Listening to the scene in which a starving dog dies literally left me breathless—thanks in large part to the impeccably chosen sounds for the barks and yelps as the dog transitions from rage, to fear, to madness, to desperation.

I imagine it’s not easy for an actor to develop accents and mannerisms for fifteen characters, but it’s essential when the actor has to switch between them, sometimes for as little as a single word, and often in the middle of another character’s line. Kimberly nailed them all (well 14 of the 15 at least, her intonations for Judith “Actually” were too similar to my favorite character, Steffi Post, though it was obvious from the context who was who). In addition to the verbal gymnastics, Kimberly’s yoga apparently paid off because she was able to continue acting while essentially imitating the Karate Kid’s Crane Kick, balancing on one leg while swirling the other in a circle.

One of the things that I don’t like about one-person shows is that they tend to be rather boring from a technical standpoint. This show wasn’t and I was as impressed with the designers, Marie-Noelle Daigneault (Set & Costume), Andrew Griffin (Lighting), and Matt Otto (Sound) as I was with Kimberly and Laura (the playwright this time). The set was projected onto white sheets strung across the front of the theatre, through which they successfully conveyed chopping down a tree, capturing a firefly, light reflecting off the surface of the lake, rain, a villainous silhouette, and the flight, perch, and ultimate demise of a heron. The mobile of origami boats, which are a symbol in the show, is also a nice touch on the otherwise bare stage.

The sound was just as impressive, and required timing with (or by) Kimberly to kill a buzzing mosquito, silence a croaking frog, and repeatedly ring a bell. And I’ve already mentioned the sounds of the dying dog which stole the show for me.

And now since we are both tired, I’ll end with some of my favorite moments from the show:

  • The secret pygmy language which the twins speak, reminiscent of the poem Op-Talk by Rives.
  • The playwright’s observations that urban legends are usually rural, are always told by someone other than the person it happened to (well maybe), always contain enough detail to be believable but never have any proof, and rarely focus on what happens afterwards.

  • Herons tempt their prey by swirling the water in front of them with their leg.

  • Children travel in packs… like wolves… and this pack contained some memorable characters.

  • Becky Ray Voss who moves [from candy cigarettes, to pall malls, to packs a day… with an occasional hit of Meth, and eventually to standing reservations at three hotels on the rowdy side of town].

  • Brett, who records everything in his notepad and is constantly flipping back through it to recall previous events. I actually went “awwww” when we learn that Brett’s notepad was stolen.

  • Quisp, who names periods of time by taking the most memorable event and putting the word “the” in front as in, Summer of The Death.

  • Steffi Post, the “like” addict whose father owns Chrysler. Steffi obsessively pulled her hair when she spoke, often spoke in Darrenisms (or at least mispronunciations), and quivered orgasmically to any prospect of violence.

  • Mrs. McGraw’s character is another great one. She’s the local school teacher with an unhealthy obsession for maintaining her teacher-of-the-year streak (kind of like the unheathly obsession I have for noticing that the teacher who corrects her husband's grammar describes an upset person as "mad" instead of "angry") even staking out the new teacher who has taken her idea for a summer reading program. Mrs. McGraw seems to be primarily interested in keeping her 10-year streak going in order to accumulate more silver bracelet prizes which she tries on one after the other in a disturbing manner that is one of the funniest scenes in the show.

1 comment:

Otto said...

Hey man, thanks for coming to see the show and the really kind words you had to say about my work. I'm glad you enjoyed it. We worked really hard on this production and it feels really good to hear people praise it so highly! Also thanks for spreading the word.

=Matt O.