Classic and Overtime Theaters serve up strange brews
Published: July 13, 2011
Look: Shepard is nearly impossible to pull off — he’s naturalistic in form but surreal in particulars, and to strike the proper balance is a guessing game. In my mind, the Classic Theatre relies too much on naturalism: very little is made of lighting or scenic effects and the ensemble generally plays the piece as a kitchen-sink drama. (A kitchen sink full of maggots, but a sink nonetheless.) This ultimately leaves the actors with very little wiggle room: As the play grows more and more poetic — a virtual oratorio of decay and disillusion — the actors seem to fight against the weirdness of text instead of reveling in its glorious strangeness. (With Buried Child, you might as well go for broke.) There are still moments of great power — the endings to acts two and three are among the most memorable in American theater — but it’s telling, too, that both scenes rely on visual surprises, not lyric ones. So this production’s three acts are a mixed bag: It’s a slow burn to the concluding parade of horrors, but there are pleasures (and legumes) unearthed along the way.
Next door, the Overtime serves up its own strange brew with Michael D. Burger’s “sci-fi dramedy” Life, or a Reasonable Approximation Thereof. The play starts off with a solid, Twilight Zone-ish conceit: An ordinary twentysomething discovers that his “life” is, in fact, an endlessly repeating single day, and that even minor alterations generate radical changes in this “life’s” trajectory. But whereas Twilight Zone episodes are models of narrative economy — 24 minutes of perfect pacing — Burger’s sluggish script meanders for two hours before finally expiring. When the playwright concentrates on the sci-fi basis of his drama — as when protagonist John anticipates the responses of every character in the room — there’s some fun to be had. Far too often, however, Burger overreaches and allows the action to bog down in clichéd and uninvolving conversations between friends and romantic interests. Joshua Thomas is fine as the increasingly erratic John (a cipher, one supposes, for the author himself); the four members of the supporting cast contribute various levels of over- and under-acting. Director Bryan Ortiz struggles to move the plot along, particularly in its more metaphysical passages; Rigel Nuñez’s attractive living room set is full of in-jokes that ought to appeal to Overtime regulars. (Check out the faux movie poster, for instance.)
One wants to support new work, but clearly the Overtime should have insisted that Burger’s Life be pared into a far sleeker one-act play — or at least a reasonable approximation thereof. •
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