It is the story of Quiet, a physicist for whom numbers provide safety in a world full of humans with whom he cannot relate. Quiet doesn't simply have bad social skills; he is wired so that he doesn't have them at all. As a kid, he learned what facial expressions meant off of flash cards, the same way other kids might learn their colors or even simple mathematics. But it's the math that has always been understandable for Quiet, while the people are an unknown.
It is also the story of Odetta, an uneducated (but not unintelligent) domestic. Odetta feels like she doesn't belong either. Raised in a family where her sister was cherished above her, Odetta never became who she wanted to be. But, while Odetta lacks book smarts, she has a beautiful wisdom, an almost spiritual understanding of the world around her.
Some of the best writing in Wiener's script happens when the scientific world of Quiet meets the more grounded world of Odetta. To Quiet, Schrödinger's Cat is a thought puzzlea useful hypothetical which helps illustrate a quantum principle. To Odetta, it's a pretty mean thing to do to a cat. On one level, Odetta has completely missed the point. But, on another, so has Quiet.
The two find themselves together on a plane in turbulent skies. Odetta tries to strike up a conversation with Quiet, while Quiet would rather scrawl equations on his cocktail napkin. But Odetta is pretty sure she's seen Quiet before, and won't take no for an answer. While, in some waysome really small wayCassiopeia is about revealing to the audience where their paths may have crossed, it's rather more about what brought them to that intersection and how it may have changed the paths they were on. Think of it as an exercise in physics, if you want. Or, if you prefer, you can think of it as an exercise in human relationships.
Doug Tompos is terrific as Quiet, completely believable as a successful professor who has accepted his limitations in human understanding. Angela Bullock is a good match as Odetta; she's honest, grounded, and, in her own way, also very much alone. This is not an easy play to put across, and these two performers (ably assisted by PaSean Wilson, as a sometime narrator) do a good job with it. Director Emilie Beck does an exceptional job for the most part; unfortunately, just after I'd finished marvelling over how smoothly the simultaneous dialogue was being delivered, the play reached a rather key sequence in which Quiet's text was lost under Odetta'sI had to rush home to read the script to understand what had actually happened.
Perhaps it has to do with this directorial misstep, or perhaps it is the text of the piece itself, but I ultimately found it somewhat unsatisfying. Perhaps it's just that the play isn't really a play at all. By the time it was over, I felt that I had more of an emotional connection with the words that were spoken than with the characters who had spoken them. The language is definitely worth the trip, but I wish there was something more to it.
Cassiopeia runs at the Theatre@Boston Court in Pasadena through February 24, 2013. For tickets and information, see www.bostoncourt.com
The Theatre@Boston Court – Artistic Directors Jessica Kubzansky & Michael Michetti, Executive Director Michael Seel – presents Cassiopeia by David Wiener. Directed by Emilie Beck. Scenic & Properties Design Stephen Gifford; Lighting Design Jeremy Pivnick; Sound Design & Original Music Jack Arky; Costume Design E.B. Brooks; Dramaturg Aaron Henne; Assistant Director Alex Levy; Production Stags Manager Alyssa Escalante; Casting Director Julia Flores; Key Art Design Christopher Komuro.