Saturday, October 17, 2015

Review: Too Many Ways on a Show

Meta theatricality can be fun. It's a strong device that allows a commentary to be formed by the author to the audience. But sometimes it can get a little too far. In Dylan Lamb's Ten Ways On a Gun presented by Squeaky Bicylcle Production, there are layers upon layers upon layers that creates a wild world about a gun.
Ten Ways On a Gun is a story of a gun. But it's also a commentary of gun culture. As well as a commentary on the process of a writer and finding the significance in art. To truly grasp the story you may need a roadmap to figure out where exactly in space and time you are. To begin the journey, we waatch a young hip couple at home whom we learn will be the focal character of our story, and Jessica Person's theater-dance piece story, whom we transition to next. We watch Jessica as she meets a handsome man who she engages in a one night stand and thusly tells her a story about a gun and gyn, who happens to be Tommy Freely, one half of the couple from the first scene. And that's where time, space, and characters intersect in a sticky web. Ten Ways On a Gun jumps from past to one night stand Benji's story of Tommy to Jessica's dance theater company's performance in a way that desperately requires more clarity. Where this story truly lies will allow this clarity to come through. With multiple narratives present, Lamb spreads them thin, never really defining certain moments. When it breaks down, the interesting plot is about Tommy and the ridiculous nature of the timeshare gun. The story of a theater artist creating a story about Tommy and the ridiculous nature of a timeshare gun limits the important discussion Lamb could start. And did I mention there's also a random scene in Texas about the origin of the gun? Dylan Lamb has a knack for comedic writing. It's where he's at his finest. But he and the production run into unfortunate trouble by having Lamb play Tommy. Suddenly Ten Ways On a Gun becomes self-aware yet self-indulgent. And this comes to life toward the end of the play where Jessica talks to Tommy in prison. Lamb's language here is gorgeous and beautifully written but it almost comes across as Lamb talking to himself about writing. Is that part of the meta-theater message? With an already stylistically messy piece, there’s an added element of an actress on stage reading stage directions. Sure, it gets joked and commented on later on as we learn it's part of Jessica Person's play but until that moment, you’re left wondering why.
photo by Joshua Sterns Photography
With an overfilled script, the direction needed to be crisp and clean allowing any glimpse of clarity. Kathryn McConnell’s vision wasn’t quite that. The comedic portions of the script needed to be amped up to a faster speed to allow the dramatic moments to sit and stir. The directorial vocabulary, primarily when it came to the use of the stage directions, was inconsistent and lagged. If the stage directions were important, they needed to override the transitions to allow the scenes to fluidly fall into one another. By waiting for the music before the words were spoken caused momentum to falter. The space Ten Ways on a Gun occupied is not the most ideal for a script with multi-locations and an array of scenic elements needed to shove items into the exposed wings. But McConnell was able to make the best of a not-so-perfect situation. The checkerboard-esque platforms from scenic designer Kathryn Lieber added an interesting dynamic to the space. With an already theatrical element to the script, costume designer Pegeen Lamb used color to her advantage. When it came to dressing the phone bank men, Lamb color coordinated them. The tie and pants matched with a complimentary shirt. There was something about this subtlety that was clever and amusing.
Acting in your own play is a risk but fortunately for Dylan Lamb, it's where he strives. Lamb brought a bottled-up energy to Tommy Freely. You could see the timer of the internal bomb creeping toward zero. His comic sensibility is strong allowing his dramatic moments to be cherished. Brandi Varnell as Jessica Person didn’t quite match the power of Lamb. The character was a tad one-dimensional on the page causing Varnell to be limited. Nathaniel Kent as Benji was the perfect blend of confident and sleazy. Michael Menta as Teddy gave a performance that left you wanting more. Teddy is an integral part of Tommy’s story that doesn’t quite receive a complete arc. Menta’s mild-mannered Teddy was fascinating to watch, even in his darkest moments. While the Texas scene may have been the most random moment of the play, Nathan Brisby and Sheila Joon were at their best. Brisby and Joon made a case for a spinoff comedy about the gun-loving hubby and his man-loving lady.
Ten Ways on a Gun is certainly an interesting piece but has the potential to be even stronger. There are strong themes inside the text but they are lost to a first-time viewer.