The Take Away

  • Skilled Performances

  • Simple, effective and cohesive design

  • Important meditation on white culture and isolation 

 

In Our Pockets

Cara

A weird thing to take out of my pockets is that I am a member of a church that has an interim pastor right now, so the plot was strangely relevant to me. I should also say that I am a pushover for any play whose set can fit in the back of a taxi.

 

Plotz

As a judgmental clown who went through a different program, I was interested to see what the people coming out of the Pig Iron program were going to make. I’m picky about things like movement. Also I was hungry. 

 

Design

Cara

Amanda Jensen’s lighting, overall, was beautiful. She held us in the mood, moved us from place to place and created some beautiful looks without ever being intrusive. The soft, atmospheric lighting was perfectly for the tone of the play.

 

Plotz

I agree, although I didn’t like the use of the windowpane gobo in the pastor’s office. I think that trick is a little overused.

 

Cara

I disagree. I think it got the job done. I particularly loved the moments when people were alone in the church, surrounded by a thin outline of light. It supported the themes of isolation and personal gifts.

 

Plotz

I’m a sucker for live music, and this group did an amazing job of using music to tell the story. I think that the bits where Jeanette is playing her violin with Ruth are a great example of that. The humor called in instead of pointing out. With slightly different choices, that would have been making fun of Jeanette, instead it was a clear description of a situation that both women were in together.

 

Cara

Church music is very evocative.

 

Plotz

For some people.

 

Cara

I guess I mean that it’s differently evocative for different people. Some remember it from childhood, or still hear it now. It might bring up trauma or anger, or it might bring comfort. But regardless of whether you already have a connection to it the words chosen to be sung in the piece were, again, perfectly aligned with the story and the tone. I think the same was through of the costumes.

 

Plotz

I agree, they were simple and clear. I know you’re just waiting to talk about the set, so let’s get to it.

 

Cara

The best sets leave the most to the imagination. These benches were used to their full potential, and met all the needs of the story.

 

Plotz

So terrifying when actors sat up on the highest one with their legs dangling. 

 

Cara

As it should be! Those were terrifying moments in the story!

 

Plotz

What I liked most is how much space they made for movement, and how integrated the benches were into that movement. For example, Dell’s moving benches while Sarah instructs him was a wonderful visual story about their relationship. Similarly the two women stacking up the benches, and putting them down again evoked the very specific feeling  that comes with setting up and breaking down a room for an event, and the way that people who don’t like each other can still work together when there’s a tangible goal.

 

Cara

I was very touched by the movement pieces about Ruth and Ken’s physical relationship. Each movement in their pattern was a specific choice. The chain of movements served two purposes. Firstly, it showed us a typically complicated marriage, with all the feelings and role reversals involved. Secondly, because it was a ritual, it let us know when something was different or wrong in the marriage in a way that speaking could not.

 

Plotz

That’s clown at it’s best. It boils everything down to the essence. Which brings me to my favorite part of this piece. The tupperwares.

 

Cara

I know that hot dishes and tupperwares of cookies are a big part of social life in the midwest, and while that is not my personal experience, the image of people cradling tupperware, offering tupperware immediately hit me right in the chest. A perfect metaphor for the ways that we contain and offer ourselves.

 

Plotz

The choice to have clear tupperware, too, gave it a vulnerable feeling, that made you worry about it when it was held away from the body or into the light. Such a simple and brilliant choice.

 

Performances

 

Plotz

This was a very strong ensemble. Nobody stood out because all of the performers were equally skilled, equally tuned in to the others and deeply giving. The devotion of each performer to the larger whole was one of the most magical things about the piece for me. I want to take time to really call out how skilled in movement and voice each performer was. These characters were deeply felt and fully lived.

 

Cara

I was so open to this story because the performers were brave enough to be gentle with their characters. As you were saying about the violin playing scenes, any of these characters could have been played for laughs which is very typical and something I hate.  

 

Plotz

Caitlin Erin Collins’ Jeanette is a good example of that. The difference between her being a lame SNL bit and a beloved character is in the earnestness with which she was played, but it’s also in the way that the other characters treat her. It’s a testament to the whole ensemble that we as the audience were laughing with her and not at her. The same is true of Michaela Moore’s Sarah.

 

Cara

Fred Brown’s understanding of Pastor Ken was deep on both a personal and a symbolic level. His minister’s cadence was uncannily perfect. His certain but awkward stride gave us the whole character in just a few steps. Martha Stuckey’s Ruth also walked and moved with a soft determination that echoed her role as the Pastor’s wife.

 

Plotz

Dan Higbee’s distress was contained to just the level that we habitually ignore. Really, these were such honest, giving and compelling performances, and they represent the best of an ensemble that balances passion and professionalism.

 

Direction

 

Cara

So this is devised work, created by the ensemble.  There are so many pitfalls to creating this way.

 

Plotz

And Bright Metal has avoided almost all of those pitfalls. The story is cohesive. The performances are tight. The structure is strong. It’s the right length.

 

Cara

Yes, I agree. However, if there’s one weak spot in this show, it’s that the culminating events fall just on the wrong side of ambiguous. I get the sense that the ensemble wanted to leave what happens open to interpretation, but with such a clear storyline right up until the end, the final events feel unsatisfyingly confusing.

 

Plotz

Do you think that what happens is too big an event?

 

Cara

I don’t know. I think my bigger issue is I’m not sure how it answers the questions that the play asks so well. I’m torn, because this is a skilled ensemble, but this one small issue stems from the absence of a director.

 

Plotz

You’re obsessed with directors.  You don’t trust the ensemble.

 

Cara

I can’t help it.  I think it’s an important role for clarity of message.

 

Script

 

Plotz

So what questions do you think that the play is asking?

 

Cara

I think this is a play about failing institutions. It’s not about the church, it’s about every institution that is meant to offer meaning and community. I see it on a meditation on the hypocrisy of American institutions, not in the inflamed way that we’re used to allcapsing about on the internet, but in the way that our individualism leaves us incapable of breaking out of isolation or caring for each other, even within groups that are meant to be our communities.

The repetition of “How are you/I’m good/See you Sunday.” Is a concise summary of how performative those communities are. A series of actions, a series of words but no actual connection or care offered.

 

Plotz

And the institution of marriage. Both marriages in the play are routinized but not supportive.

 

Cara

Right! It’s a play about loneliness, but a specifically American loneliness. The way we walk around with our tupperwares. The fools among us embarrass ourselves by offering them to those who don’t want them. Our real selves end up discarded or pitied like a snickers salad.

 

Plotz

There are so many instances of people going uncared for here, and the script offers so many insights into the ways that we fail to care for each other.

 

Cara

So many of us try to make big, important plays about this terrifying cultural and political moment, but this play succeeds by going to the heart of what brought us here, which is isolation and loneliness.

Accountability

 

Plotz

And racism and misogyny and and…. I think that assessment might be a little myopic. 

 

Cara

I don’t think so. But I did make a mistake. I said that this was about American loneliness, but I think it’s specifically about white loneliness. This is a play with only white people, which is appropriate because this is a play about white culture, and it’s a deft criticism.

All of the characters in the play look to their white male pastors to help them out of suffering and loneliness, when these men are the least equipped to make things any better. Their leadership is ornamental and unhelpful. Pastor Ken holds forth about his role as a good shepherd, even as his “sheep” bleat in pain around him and get lost. While the most vulnerable struggle to get their basic emotional needs met, Pastor John takes more time to write his book, and Pastor Ken practices his sermons.

Still, the women and Dell don’t know how to reach out to each other. The only versions of love they’ve been offered is God’s love, represented by these indifferent men and totally useless, and sexual/romantic love.  Sarah and Dell have these moments of connection that the misconstrue as sexual because they literally can’t envision any other kind of caring relationship.  They’re too isolated by trauma and petty hierarchies and politenesses.

Plotz

But how is that not just focusing on white people’s stories and ignoring, say queerfolk as this play does?

Cara

I hear you. But I think the difference is consciousness. To throw a poc into this play would either be dishonest make it a very different story, because this is the isolation that happens among white people. This hierarchy, where all need is sacrificed to a patriarch’s ego and the only love is either divine or sexual is not working.  I think interrogation of issues in white culture is valuable.

 

 

 

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