Soft Click of a Switch
In a press release for Map Theatre’s latest production, "Soft Click of a Switch," director Peggy Gannon paraphrases Anton Chekhov in order to explain her approach to staging the complex and dark world presented in this 1998 play written by Carl W. Lewis, and which is now playing at West of Lenin in Fremont.
She quotes: "It’s not our job to tell you that horse thieves are evil, but rather to show you what these particular horse thieves are like."
And a fine job of "showing" Gannon does as she presents audiences the gritty, isolated, and inert lives of the play’s two main characters, Ed and Earl -- a mismatched couple of down-and-outs who ultimately want to make their mark on the world, albeit a destructive one.
Ed, played by Brandon Ryan, is a lonely, disillusioned and restless young man who spends most of his time spying on his next door neighbors through a tiny crack in the wall in his rundown studio apartment.
Earl, played by Mark Fullerton, is a divorced, childless, alcoholic, middle-aged man who now lives in his car and spends his days downing bottles of gin at a dive bar when he is not seated behind the desk at his soul-destroying, dead end office job.
When this oddly matched couple meet by chance one day at a dark and dank bar nearby the Mall of America in Minneapolis, they ultimately end up forming a relationship that delivers them from their inertia and gives them purpose and ambition.
Of course, one of the things that drives them is the building of kitchen-table bombs made out of random air conditioner parts, which they use to blow up unattended drive-through ’fotomats.’ (Remember, the play was written in 1998, a time before the massive onslaught of the digital age in which we now live).
But the deeper drive is their desire "to do SOMETHING: to forcefully create value for themselves where none seems to exist [...] Each man alone may have remained inert, but their chemistry together is explosive," explains Gannon in the program’s Director Notes.
Indeed, there is much chemistry between Ryan and Fullerton in their respective roles. Ryan is both hardened and vulnerable at the same time; his energy is high-strung, twitchy, and restless just as it should be. Fullerton, on the other hand, is slower-paced, calculating and exact; he comes across as a very cerebral functional alcoholic, one who has lived a hard life and who sees clearly the sad and empty world that surrounds him.
So, part of the "showing" that the director does is to let these two skilled actors work their magic, allowing them to build a camaraderie that in many ways becomes a love story between the characters.
She also "shows" instead of "tells" by keeping things simple in terms of the scenography. The set design by Suzi Tucker is quite minimalist and functional as it represents four primary spaces: the bar, Earl’s office, Ed’s apartment, and the next door neighbors’ apartment, which we actually don’t see, but rather just peek into. Although a more elaborate set design would have been nice, it wasn’t necessary, as it allowed the focus to remain on the acting.
The lighting design by Terra Morgan and the Costume Design by Julia Evanovich were also subdued. In terms of the lights, the ambiance remains rather dark and somber throughout, which, again, is appropriate. And the costumes were basically just plainclothed, everyday garb.
There were some interesting things going on with the sound design by Shane Regan. The muffled sounding music selection, comprised primarily of late ’60s & early ’70s rock, at first gives the impression that there is something wrong with the speakers, but I suppose it was done on purpose. And the intermittent voice of an invisible bartender calling drinks and reprimanding rowdy patrons was a nice added touch.
In short, I enjoyed the "showing" of this strange and "darkly comic platonic love story about two strangers" (to quote the press release), who meet at a bar one day and decide to blow up things.