Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
And So It Goes was written by George F. Walker and first produced in his native Toronto in 2010. Walker is one of the most prolific playwrights (as well as screenwriters) in Canada, but his work is little known in the States. Based on this play, that is too bad, for he has a strong grasp of character, a razor sharp wit, and a compassion without pity for those falling into the deep, dark potholes of life.
We have a family that most likely was once perfectly normalfather Ned was a financial advisor, mother Gwen a Latin teacher turned stay-at-home mom, a son Alex and a daughter Karen. Only now Karen, in her mid-20s, erupted into paranoid schizophrenia, with no grasp on reality, fits of violence, and in need of constant care which she fiercely resists. Ned has lost his jobit's now been over a year, with no prospects in sight. Alex has fled the family, no longer seen or heard from. Gwen, increasingly despondent and fatigued by the demands of caring for Karen, turns more and more to the bottle. She also has a therapist to talk things out with: Kurt Vonnegut (yes, the late author) with whom she has imaginary therapy sessions. In time, Ned also seeks Vonnegut's counsel.
Things go from bad to worse. Karen's condition provokes her to run away and live on the streets, with brutally tragic results. Ned and Gwen's finances are quickly circling the drain, as they lose their car, their house, and their pride. Unable to get a job in his field, Ned takes a class to become a pastry chef and later is employed as a sign holder (you know, one of those guys standing on the corner with a sign reading "Going Out of Business" or "Big Blowout"). He is also obsessed with finding out who is to blame for what happened to Karen. We watch as Gwen and Ned's lives drop down one step at a time, waiting and waiting to see ... is there another step, or are they now at the bottom? We wonder, is there something to stem the tide and make life a good idea for them once again?
If it doesn't sound funny, trust me, there is abundant humor in And So It Goes. It is the kind of humor that hurts, because we know that what we are seeing is definitely not funny in any way, and yet Walker has laced it heavily with humor. Isn't that, after all, how we survive the worst that life can toss at us? Benjamin McGovern's direction draws out this humor, but also projects affection for this woeful lot and their ghostly therapist.
The play is staged in the center of Dark & Stormy's bare bones performance space, audience circling the center. At every ninety degrees of these space is an extremely minimal set piece such as a pair of chairs or a hospital bed, to serve as various locations. A pillar (part of the structure of Dark & Stormy's space) is right in the center, so at brief points every seat has an obscured view, as the actors circle about the playing area. This element is not written into the play, but director McGovern employs the set-up well, using the sense of not fully knowing what is going on as a way of understanding these people's lives, though the actors play broadly enough that most always one can intuit what is happening behind the pillar. Because the playing space occupies most of the room, the audience sits on the fringes of the lighted "stage" and is visible to those sitting across the playing area. The feeling is that wethe audienceare collectively, voyeuristically observing this flying apart family.
The family, as portrayed by Sara Marsh (Karen), Sally Wingert (Gwen), and Robert Dorfman (Ned), alternately tug at our heart strings and repulse us, all the while prompting laughter. They give the impression of having once been a true family, but who now are each absorbed in their own private sphere of suffering. Wingert is a gem here, a flask of vinegar as the too-long suffering caregiver who has given up the pretense of caring. Marsh is a marvel of manic terror one moment, vicious character assassination another, the soul of reason next minute. We know she can't help herself, yet in each guise she creates the illusion of being the one in control. As Ned, Dorfman is a passive, self-denigrating collection of tics, the "understanding" parent whose understanding does nothing to help things. He remarkably maintains Ned's basic essence as he shifts from good naturedly turning the other cheek into a vigilante out to avenge his daughter's destroyer. Completing the cast, James Craven is Vonnegut, his distinguished sounding voice creating an air of calm and authority, unflappable no matter what warped notion or unanswerable question Gwen or Ned toss his way.
Lisa Jones has done fine work on costume designs, with clothes put on in layers as the challenges of life form layers of chaos for Ned, Gwen and Karen. Only Vonnegut remains always dapper, exempt from the increasing burdens of lifeof course, he is dead, so that is only fair. Mary Shabatura's lighting design beautifully guides the flow of action into different locations around the open space.
And So It Goes is performed with an intermission, and, good as it is, the play might be even stronger without the break. The intermission breaks the sense of continuous spiraling downward and the mood of despair and decay that is creeping in from the edges. That mood is reestablished before long, but the play might pack even more punch if it built steadily from start to end without let-up.
That quibble aside, And So It Goes is well worth seeing, for the power of the playwright's work, the imaginative staging and use of space, and the bravura performances by a stellar cast. Dark & Stormy Productions continues its undefeated record. Now, if we could only transfer that to our local baseball team
And So It Goes continues through June 25, 2016, presented by Dark & Stormy Productions, North Star Theatricals, and The Mount Curve Company, in partnership with ArtsSpace at the Grain Belt Warehouse, 77 13th Avenue N.E, Studio 201, Minneapolis, Tickets: $29.00 - $34.00, under age 30 tickets: $15.00. For tickets call 612-401-4506 or go to darkstormy.org.
Written by George F. Walker; Director: Benjamin McGovern; Set Design: Lizzy Hallas; Costume Design: Lisa Jones; Lighting: Mary Shabatura; Sound Design: Aaron Newman; Props Design: Katie Phillips; Production Stage Manager: Jared Ziegler; Assistant Stage Managers: Rick Miller and Jack Tillman; Producers: Jennifer Melin Miller and Frances Wilkinson
Cast: James Craven (Vonnegut), Robert Dorfman, Sara Marsh (Karen), Sally Wingert (Gwen)