BWW Reviews: No Idea What You're Going to Get in Sleeping Weazel's REAL REALISM
Abstract theatre requires a certain amount of trust. The audience must trust this new world and every rule (or lack thereof) presented to them, the actors must trust the emotions that may not line up perfectly with the text, and everyone must trust that there is a method to the madness, or at least an end to the chaos in sight. Instead of a transportation into the life and story of a particular character, abstract theatre is more of a game that everyone must be willing to play.
Sleeping Weazel, whose mantra is "making different possible", is currently presenting their own abstract game, Real Realism at the Factory Theatre. In the piece, five strangers are stuck together in a windowless room, apparently unaware of their reason for being so, and discuss their own lives and relationships with the others.
The piece, written by Charlotte Meehan, reminded me substantially of playwright Charles Mee, as the play utilized his often used technique of switching back and forth between pure insanity to fairly sensical conversations. Because the piece was so unpredictable, it was incredibly engaging, and I often found myself laughing at the absurdity of it, only to immediately be hit with a moment of poignancy. I had no problem falling into, and then being engrossed by, the world of the play.
That being said, I think I would have liked to see the abstract aspects of the show more consistently presented throughout. There were moments at the start where I was baffled and intrigued by the strangeness of it, such as everyone humming a hauntingly monotone pitch as the child played with his doll, but as the piece evolved, things had more intention and explanation. On a similar note, the author's note mentioned this piece as an "exploration of the broken heart", a notion I find beautiful; however, I could not trace the characters' losses. In fact, there were two or three characters that, until reflecting on it afterwards, I did not think were grieving anything. I think this piece treads the line between an abstract work and something with a concrete storyline, at times dipping its toes into each pool, but I felt it would have been more beneficial had a more distinct choice been made.
Instead of focusing on the darker side, I watched the show as a fun, upbeat work, and enjoyed myself immensely. The cast was very entertaining and likable, all giving remarkably honest and emotional performances, which takes a lot more work in an abstract piece. It was obviously directed very well, with explorations into the characters' lives that were shown rather than spoken. All five members gave strong performances, but my personal favorites were Veronica Wiseman, whose hilariously entitled housewife (for lack of a better term) was very reminiscent of Arrested Development's Lucille Bleuth, and Alex Dhima, a very talented fifth grader who acted as the voice of reason throughout the show. This cast seemed to really care about each other and about the work they were presenting, which made it captivating.
This piece was all about the details. My favorite moment in the entire show was when one character drank water from the tiny cap of the bottle rather than taking a swig. Everything was meticulously planned out, so there was always something to see and experience. This specificity was found in the design elements as well, particularly in the costumes, which were beautifully coordinated with each other and with the set. There was a multimedia aspect that popped up very sporadically, for which I did not entirely understand the need, but overall, things were planned nicely.
I believe I really benefited from going into this production with no real expectations or knowledge of what was going to happen. If anyone comes looking for a story that is easy to follow and gets tied up nicely with a little bow, they will be sorely disappointed. But if anyone comes looking to laugh and be confused and wonder and explore and be touched and question and experience, this is exactly for what they are looking.
Written by Charlotte Meehan; Directed by Vanessa Gilbert; Stage Managed by Keagan McCarthy; Production Managed by Rebecca Finkelstein; Lighting and Technical Design by Colin McNamee; Video Footage by Steven Bell; Video Editing by Evan O'Sullivan; Sound Engineering by Chris Horton; Movement Captain James Barton; Research Assistant Jessica Flori; Poster Designed by Jessical Kuszaj
CAST (in alphabetical order): James Barton, Alex Dhima, Andrew Tung, Jennifer Welsh, Veronica Wiseman
This production of Real Realism is presented by Sleeping Weazel at the Factory Theatre in Boston, and runs through June 8. For tickets and more information, visit their website, www.sleepingweazel.com.