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BWW Reviews: THE TYPOGRAPHER'S DREAM Explores What Our Jobs Mean to Us at Portland Center Stage

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When someone asks us what we do, most of us will answer with our job title. I don't, not because I'm ashamed of my day job, but because my writing and theater life are more vital to my daily existence than the things I do during the day for money. (Sorry, boss.) "What do you do?" is probably one of the first questions we ask a new acquaintance, and we generally expect to hear about how they earn a paycheck. But really, how vital is that daily job to our lives? Each of us would likely come up with a different answer. To a schoolteacher, a scientist, or an EMT, their professions dominate their lives and relationships; to a teenager working in a fast-food restaurant part-time, not so much.

Adam Bock's The Typographer's Dream explores that question in an unusual way. The theater is bare except for a raised platform, upon which we see three folding tables and three chairs. Two people stand at the front chatting while the audience enters; I only realized that these were characters in the play because I recognized one of the actors. Eventually they take the stage and are joined by the third actor, who rushes in late dropping her things and making the others wait while she pours herself a precise amount of water. We are here for a panel discussion.

Margaret, the one who came late, is a typographer. She becomes flustered while trying to describe her work - is it art, craft, or business? - and she is easily overwhelmed by the others. Annalise is a geographer, passionate about her work, and eager to discuss it in the most high-minded terms. "Geography is about the whole world," she begins, and eventually she runs out of the discussion in order to come back with maps and charts to illustrate her work. Dave is a stenographer - or does he prefer to be called a court reporter? he can't decide - who describes his work in very literal terms. "It's typing," he says. "A lot of typing."

Three different people, three very different ways of looking at your work. The three take turns talking to us, though Annalise is the chattiest and Margaret becomes frustrated trying to get a word in edgewise. The play is short and has no intermission, but over the course of the 75 minutes we get a very good look at the three characters. At first we think they do not know each other - they have the strained politeness of strangers who are forced into a situation together - but gradually we see connections between them, and past arguments begin to spill out.

I'm not sure what the play is meant to tell us about the world of work, but it's amusing and intelligent, and the short running time goes by quickly. Director Rose Riordan doesn't push the actors into great dramatic readings; they play their roles well and don't push, with the "panel discussion" conceit keeping the histrionic possibilities fairly low until the play's end.

A play like this, with minimal scenery and no plot, depends on its actors, and here Riordan has made the best decision of all. Sharonlee McLean makes Margaret idealistic and feisty, an unusual combination, and when she finally gets wound up there's no getting in her way. Kelsey Tyler plays Dave a bit too fey; the character is meant to be gay, but Tyler seemed to be overdoing the stereotypical mannerisms in order to get laughs. Laura Faye Smith's Annalise was the standout, dominating the evening and showing a full range of emotions even within the limited scope of the production. When she and McLean started in on each other at play's end, the whole theater came alive, and the drama made sense.

The Typographer's Dream is a slight entertainment on the topic of work, and as such, it's quite amusing, and the cast keeps the balls in the air while the play is on stage. Don't go in expecting great drama, but do enjoy the performances. And think about how you'd describe your job under the same circumstances.


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From This Author Patrick Brassell

Patrick Brassell is the author of five published novels and five produced plays. He has directed, produced, and designed sound for about fifty theater productions, (read more...)