by Collin McConnell · May 8, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #93 Collin McConnell looks at The Few at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
It seems theater is becoming more and more interested in the spaces in between. More and more plays look to the mundane actions of the humans that inhabit them to better uncover who they are for when it counts the most. There are more and more terse and drawn out pauses, more and more scenes of cleaning up or putting away.
The Few is a tale of the lost and lonely - Bryan returns after a mysterious four-year absence to find the newspaper he helped create drastically changed, run now with the help of his old friend's nephew, and himself unwelcome-d by QZ, the girlfriend he had abandoned. But Bryan won't leave: he has finally decided it's time to clean up, and he has the cards uncomfortably stacked in his favor - the title and deed to the trailer and the newspaper are still in his name.
They stare at one another for an uncomfortable duration.
The play asks for it, but it really is the hand of Davis McCallum as director that digs out the humanness of the moments in-between. It is never just a pause - something bigger, more real, more tangible is at work. And these are real silences, real pauses, really needing the characters to have to make a move. Michael Laurence, Tasha Lawrence, and Giddion Glick fill them all beautifully - no one is ever waiting, instead you can see the wheels spinning, the gut churning before making a move (finding a pack of cigarets, or closing a door). Michael Laurence is particularly affecting in these quiet moments, living and breathing the uneasiness he brings into the room with a disturbingly cool calm.
We are allowed in to a great deal of personal moments (again, the cleaning, the waiting...), but there are other mundane human moments the play firmly, yet gently, chooses to skip. These are the mundane moments of someone not really at their best. Samuel D. Hunter's script seems keenly aware that it is a play about pushing forward (no matter how difficult and awkward that may be), and this handles the passage of time in a jarring (and still greatly effective) manner - sharp jumps over maybe only a few moments (to a few hours) live within incredibly quick blackouts, indicated through a change of maybe a prop (a bottle shifts from full to empty) or the shifting of a character from a chair to the couch. There is a real treat in the tiny surprises in these moments, so cleanly shaped by McCallum and the design team, and executed with such precision by the actors.
Again, it's the mundane moments of people not at their best that are indicated and then leaped over. Not that this play doesn't show people at maybe not their best - everyone drags someone through the mud here. But those are moments of choice, moments of action. The silent moments, the simple moments, are of people picking up...
Not that there isn't dialogue and not-mundane action - there is plenty of it. Giddion Glick's nervous and awkward Michael is an excellent air filler - he needs to talk, he needs to feel comfortable, and Glick makes this so wonderfully humorous (and so opposed to how comfortable Laurence's Bryan and Lawrence's QZ are in that silence) that we let go of the tragedy looming over this whole ordeal for moments to smile and sympathize with him.
And yet, The Few doesn't completely feel like it has found its footing. Hunter's text sets up a beautiful examination of how hope is discovered, and how one might be willing to risk the chance of change, but it rings that one note for so long that I began to drift from the play, waiting and hoping for some chance to be taken. Chances, risks, changes are explored, and when they are the levity they bring is magical (there is a particularly 'shocking' moment near the end that is especially rich), but they are so far apart that I kept stepping outside of the play, not living with it, but rather thinking about it. Some moments seem forced (an altercation near the middle of the play seems to erupt out of nothing, leaving me wondering whether it was the writing or perhaps something unfortunately glossed over by the actors and director), and the point feels like it is trying to sneakily drill its way into me - every aspect of the play points to it while trying to avoid the connection.
But let that alone. The play is certainly in good hands, and worth grappling with. Walking into the theater, one cannot really expect less - Dane Laffrey's wonderfully messy, cluttered, obviously 1990's set (giant old computer monitors glow with screen-savers of nostalgia) point to something I expect, love, and admire about the work produced at Rattlestick: it's scrappy, messy, at work with itself. That's work worth doing - so long as it keeps working, keeps doing - and a joy to watch.