by Everett Goldner · August 21, 2014
We enter Connelly Theater to be confronted by a pre-show scene that suggests precisely the locale we just emerged from: man sits on a bench center stage, absently waiting for something he doesn’t seem to really expect. Behind him, dude in a hoodie planted cross-legged on the ground, earbuds in. Stage right of the hoodie, a fellow in torn jeans + army surplus jacket sits playing a cello. Girl in classy-sexy evening wear a few paces up from the cello picks at her nails and looks dejectedly at the floor. Downstage, girl in professional dress leans against an alcove, typing endlessly at her iPhone. In short, the ensemble looks exactly the way everyone in New York City feels for anywhere from twenty minutes to several hours daily, depending on length of commute. As Estragon summed up, they’re all ready to hang themselves, immediately.
Connelly suits this show well: it’s a space that persuades you to focus on the stage because its vast, empty, cavernous interior strongly suggests that nothing else can possibly matter – and except for short bursts when the stage is only blue-lit for eerie or jazzy mood moments, audience and performers can see each other clearly throughout Orson. You could almost touch the actors. But would you? As Tristan waits in Grand Central Station for his alien alter-ego, Orson, tracking through old wounds on the phone with his ex, Rachel, refusing money from his parents, seeking spiritual guidance from a Tarot reader, you may find that how willing you are to take the ride you’re given here is equivalent to how willing you would be to talk to this guy in Grand Central.
Tristan is a polymath; Rachel is a psychiatrist who’s diagnosed him with classic schizotypal disorder (“it’s not your fault,” she classically tells him) – unusual patterns of thinking, superstitions, delusions of magical powers. She wants him to go back on the meds; he wants her to accept the greater truths of cosmic connection and destiny. These two know each other too well; their conflict of intellect vs. faith is what the show’s attention always returns to, and as they hack each other’s psyches you can sense echoes of tropes that recur through modern drama in everything from Girl, Interrupted to Sarah Kane.
It’s interesting to reflect that although the staccato verbal deconstructionism is the first thing that comes to mind, there are places where the show shifts into low gear: a Norah Jones-style rendition of “Swinging on a Star,” a moment when Tristan invites Rachel to slow dance. In these beats, subtle elisions abide between what’s real and what might just be in Tristan’s head, and clocking in at only fifty minutes (a little too short), you’re left with a sense of a jigsaw that’s not quite complete and of a show that’s got talent to burn. Brian McDonald as Tristan handles the character’s psychospiritual flips with a natural dexterity that instantly pegs him as that guy you remember from high school who no one really knew but everyone thought was, like, totally brilliant. Ensemble work is nearly seamless, making it easy to accept that these characters are all over the map even as Tristan grounds them on the subway platform with him.
Waiting for Orson, from playwright Ian Leahy and director Rebekah Heldt, is unlikely to emerge as one of the hits of FringeNYC this year, but it’s a show you may find yourself musing on in odd moments. If it finds a truer rhythm in future iterations, it might even stop waiting, and learn to run.