Theatre Hound

‘This Random World’ by Stephen Dietz at Left Edge Theatre – Shadow Dance

(L-R) Anthony Martinez: Tim Ward, Heather Gordon*: Beth Ward. Photo by Katie Kelley.

Life’s random events happen spontaneously and unpredictably.  They define our lives, or more importantly, our reactions to them define our lives.  This play offers us a great opportunity to look at the random events in our lives and how we react (or not) to them.

While these actors play their parts on the chessboard of the stage, the audience are given the keys of the play’s patterns of overlapping lives.  While the play produces many situations that appear random to the cast, there is nothing “random” about this play to the audience.  The audience are informed, while the actors are kept clueless though the very chess-like scripting of the playwright.

The set by Argo Thompson is very colorful with clear projections to help with the changing scenarios.  One permanent set piece on stage dominates the stage, but the story evolves around it. The backgrounds and lighting help to define the scenes clearly.  Joe Winkler adds interesting pre-show music that enhances the material; his sound effects during the show work to keep the scenes interesting.

(L-R) Heather Gordon: Beth Ward, Chandler Parrott-Thomas: Rhonda. Photo by Katie Kelley.

“This Random World” premiered at the 40th Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville in 2016.  It opens with Beth Ward (played by Heather Gordon*) writing her own epitaph with her brother Tim Ward (played by Anthony Martinez).  To help matters along, Beth announces that she is going “off the grid” to Nepal to be alone for a couple of weeks, and not to worry.

(L-R) Rosie Frater: Bernadette, Trish DeBaun: Scottie Ward. Photo by Katie Kelley.

Their mom, Scottie (played by Trish DeBaun) is also planning a trip, but will not inform her children; she hires an aid to help her travel.  Meanwhile, Claire (played by Paige Picard) is breaking up with Gary (played by Ariel Zuckerman) over a piece of quesadilla.  Eventually, Claire writes a sincere letter to her past love, Tim (our Tim Ward), to let him know she still loves him.  The different lives start to spiral around each other.

Gary and Beth meet randomly in Nepal.  Eventually, Scottie finds she cannot go to Japan and sends her aid’s sister, Rhonda (played by Chandler Parrott-Thomas) to go in her place.  Tim finally gets together with Claire, but since Tim has written his own “trial” obit online under another person’s obit who has actually died, Claire cannot believe anything Tim says as real, believing he is actually dead.

While the author tries to focus on how people’s lives develop and interact at random, he glosses over any depth to the lives he portrays.  This play illustrates how the lack of any meaningful communication keeps these ongoing life streams separate.

All the characters come together at the end, but continue to be clueless about each other.  This is a mystery without a resolution for the cast: they pass each other at random without realizing they are related in many ways, but the audience gets the “aha” moments.

Remember Macbeth’s “Life’s but a walking shadow, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?”  Director Phoebe Moyer tries admirably to make the characters’ lives clear and the random interactions obvious, but the script is not meant to bring this play to life.  This play is written to illustrate just how isolated our lives can be as a “Shadow Dance.”

(L-R) Paige Picard: Claire, Ariel Zuckerman: Gary. Photo by Katie Kelley.

Martinez does a good job of Tim Ward‘s character who talks to the world through his computer.  Martinez’ character obviously has feelings about the women in his life, but cannot express them in a meaningful way.

Gordon is perfect as the 2-dimensional sister focused on the end of life versus the middle.  “What love life?” she complains.  Of course love is the two-way interaction that is obviously missing.

Parrott-Thomas plays the mom’s aid with a patience and inner focus that could possibly help her see how the random events intersect.  The rituals don’t help.  She doesn’t see the relationships.

Picard as Claire displays anger and frustration at not seeing the relationships that are right next to her.  Her walls of anger do a great job at keeping her isolated.

(L-R) Norman Hall: A Man, Trish DeBaun: Scottie Ward. Photo by Katie Kelley.

DeBaun (as the mom) declares at the end that she missed a sunrise and wonders what else she has missed in her life.  Norman Hall, playing a dead man, cannot get people around him to respond, although at least he tries. We wonder what pleasures the actors (and audience) could have realized if Stephen Dietz had allowed the cast to share their lives with each other as they live, versus fearing to interact.  Of course this is the point.

The Left Edge Theatre is in the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa.

“This Random World” continues at the Left Edge Theatre through May 26, 2019.  For further information: www.leftedgetheatre.com.

Rating: ***

Director: Phoebe Moyer. Scenic Designer: Argo Thompson. Costume Designer: Sandra Ish. Sound Designer: Joe Winkler. Lighting Designer: April George. Projections: Argo Thompson.

Cast: Trish DeBaun: Scottie Ward. Anthony Martinez: Tim Ward. Heather Gordon*: Beth Ward. Rosie Frater: Bernadette. Chandler Parrott-Thomas: Rhonda. Paige Picard: Claire. Ariel Zuckerman: Gary. Norman A. Hall: A Man. Zane Walters: Tim Ward Understudy.

* Heather Gordon is a member of Actors’ Equity Association.

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