BWW Review: 10,000 THINGS Doesn't Add Up to Much at Wilbury Group
There is certainly something worthwhile about theater that pushes boundaries, tries new things, experiments and offers unique ways to tell a story. The art form, in general, benefits from that kind of work. It benefits from work that expands the minds of an audience and tells them a story in a way that challenges them. On the other hand, Wilbury Group's second show of the year, 10,000 Things by Erik Ehn, proves how this kind of theater can instead leave an audience bored, confused or both.
Ehn's play, receiving it's world premiere with this production, tells the story of a young boy who runs away from home one day. An older child, a girl, runs away with him, and the two children become lost in the woods. The girl eventually makes it home but the boy does not and he tragically dies. That death then reverberates throughout his friends and family, as we see how each of them is impacted with the event and/or how they deal with it.
While that plot is pretty standard and well-covered, Ehn takes a completely unique and unusual route to tell the story. As a concept, telling an old story in a different way is a great idea. In this case, though, the story is told so confusingly and in such a disconnected way that the audience never really engages with it, understands it, or cares about it. They are too busy trying to figure out what is going on and what it all means.
In terms of the writing and the direction, both of which were done by Ehn, there are a couple of egregious mistake here. First, so much of the play comes across as arrogant, in the sense that it seems to be saying, "I can understand what all this means. Can't you?!?!" Having characters give monologues where they explain to the audience what they just watched only insults their intelligence even more. At the same time, it all seems completely self-indulgent, as if Ehn is trying to demonstrate how radical and avant-garde he can be, to prove that his avant-garde is bigger and better than everyone else's. That kind of measuring contest, especially at the expense of good storytelling, is another insult to an audience.
Having said that, there some brilliant moments here that shine briefly on their own, even if they don't always make sense as part of the whole. There is some great work with shadows and a couple of very cool puppets. The puppetry work is also very good. Puppetry is a good analogy for Ehn's entire effort here. It's like the whole play is a marionette puppet, with Ehn holding the strings, dropping characters, puppets, props, effects, music, songs, and other items, just for a moment, and then pulling them back up. Disappointingly, all of those elements are disconnected and disjointed and the marionette just falls apart.
Ehn does, at least, have a stellar cast at the end of his marionette strings. Shannon Hartman does the best puppetry work of the show, while demonstrating how multi-talented she is by also singing, playing guitar and acting at a high level. Paige Barry also demonstrates multiple talents with excellent acting and spectacular singing. Christine Treglia is heartbreaking in the best way as a grieving mother and Taliq Tillman is also a standout as the brother of the young boy who dies in the woods. Jeff Hodge, Brien Lang, Jessica March, Ava Mascena, and Rudy Sanda all have excellent individual moments as well.
Unfortunately, all of those great individual moments get completely muddled in what could have appropriately been titled "10,000 Random, Disconnected Things Thrown Together and Maybe Something Good Happens." Unfortunately, it doesn't.
10,000 Things plays through October 29th at The Wilbury Theatre Group, located at 393 Broad Street, Providence. Shows are at 7:30 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Tickets are $15 - $25 and are available through the company's website at www.thewilburygroup.org.
Pictured: Shannon Hartman. Photo by Maggie Hall.