Stray Cat Theatre, an independently minded Arizona theatrical troupe, has assembled a great cast, built a trim set and brings ‘The Antipodes’ to Tempe Center for the Arts.
Aside from some lighting control issues their Saturday night performance ( third one !) was spot-on satisfying theater, more about those lights later, lets talk drama.
In this case the drama is verbal, no fistfights or explosions needed in real talking theater. Playwright Annie Baker has provided 115 minutes of talk, with a few of those consumed in silent, lingering pauses that drip, drip with tension or is it compression? Get used to a lot of alliterative antonyms in this production. Here is the plot: The seven junior members of a writing team are trapped for months around a conference table, paying homage to and adoring their experienced playwright leader, Sandy. It starts off well, then becomes complex as the human flaws show up and words are lofted, ideas are fronted, laughter and stories are presented. Not all the characters make it to all the writing sessions and the increasing absences of Sandy bring paranoia into play. The main tension is played out: will they succeed? In a way all stories succeed and this one ends in one of the possible ways it might, with tight focus. It is simply a well-written tale.
The methods that their language and the way the stories each character brings to their table wrap around the team’s progress is the play, the thing, the action and the solution to each sub-plot, most of which consists of the writers’ stories. They work their minds and flex their ideas by talking about every sort of personal thing and these little stories are wonderful, wonderfully written and well-spoken by some good actors. As Sandy’s increased off-stage crises seem to be leading to the foreshadowed worse case of the financers pulling the plug on the whole project the team’s struggle to congeal around one worthy and hopefully profound subject matter begins to look more and more distant. More pressure. Another team member is lost to his human frailty.
When all seems lost an explosion erupts, a eureka of sorts, but will it make it into a marketable script?
See the play, it is well worth it, but I’m constrained by a cone of silence. The writers are also under said cone, but that doesn’t spare the audience from some rough ice-breaking talk (enough to send three of the audience home at the 22 minute mark, their loss, frankly, didn’t they ever work in Construction or a High School? Your Parents enjoyed as much as you, when younger than you are now). The cone is safe with me. I hope you see the play. By tonight the lighting should be solved, let’s hope. The Saturday Audience was so lost in the spoken word it became completely okay to watch a play under house lights alone. Even when the tabletop was randomly brightly illuminated it was not unlike rising sunlight or the conference room lights coming on as a new day was signified, by the arrival of Receptionist Sarah, taking the daily lunch order. The audience members were in the room, so real. I talked back to the cast, a first for me. I was a groundling.
The near-symmetrical set was perfect at focusing on the table of communal despair. It was a complement to the exquisite symmetrical Architecture of the Studio theater in the TCA. Let’s look forward to more stray cat struts in this venue, even if the parking lot does soon go to heck, oh ye sensitive readers.
‘The Antipodes’ plays through September 22, 2018. Directed by Ron May.