Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
At a table in a library, Rennernot his first or last name, but his identityis working industriously on his novel. Asked what it's about, he replies that it is about a man writing a novel in a library. And what is the man in Renner's nascent novel writing about? About a man in a library writing a novel ...and that novel is about a man in a library writing (curve ball here) a play. And what is the play about? There's the unknown quantity, the kink in Renner's speculation, like a set of narrative Russian nesting dolls that go on infinitesimally. Renner is obsessed with infinitywhich he states quite emphatically, is not the same as forever. Renner has conversations on this theme with three other people, each of whom take on different identities that may be real, or may be inventions of Renner's imagination, or as he often is prone to state, "my mind's eye."
There is Sarah, who may be a literary agent, or merely playing the part of one, or may be the director of Renner's play, or his therapist or his mothereven there, we have two quite different variants of mother, one nurturing and protective, the other cold and demeaning. George, who also may be the director of Renner's play, or his father, similarly appearing in two variations, or a regular guy who has had all he can take of Renner's ruminations about infinity. And then there is Eve, the librarian (she too comes in multiple personas), or an attractive woman who captivates Renner in a coffee shop. In any given scene, whether these persons are having an actual encounter with Renner, or are characters of his creation, is subject to speculation back and forth. Likewise, we can find ourselves suddenly in the future, or at least in Renner's conception of the future.
Renner appears to be trying to write his future, to get ahead of the onrush of time and take control over what will have happened at some point when he can look back at what has not yet been. If that sentence is confusing, it is the type of dialogue will hear throughout My Beautiful Infinity. If you enjoy puzzles and speculative arguments, you will be drawn in with relish, as I was. Otherwise, you may have your work cut out for you. In any case, Renner repeatedly comes back to his primary cosmic complaint: he wants, very badly it seems, to fall in love, but how can one "fall" in love, when existence itself is infinite, with no beginning and no end? This yearning is a point of reference to hang on to while making sense of Renner's game of grammatical and cosmological leapfrog.
The play is constructed in a series of scenes separated by blackouts. It is played in the round in the Black Box theater at Artistry, and during each blackout Renner drags his library table from one corner of the stage to another. This allows audience members to see scenes from different vantage points, and no one watches the actors' backs for the entire play. It also gives each scene a closing punctuation mark; that last scene is gone, and now we start anew. There is no through- narrative, but fragments, each with its place on a story arc that seems indeed like it had no beginning and may have no end.
Scott Gilbert has directed My Beautiful Infinity as if it ought to make perfect sense, which is the right way to go. The challenges to logic, the questions of where it begins and where it ends, and the circuitous meandering of Renner's mind are all made plain. We don't need the ground rules underlined to grasp what is going on, but need only to jump on board and take the ride. Considering the numerous starts and stops, black-outs and sudden shifts in, and the tense-twisted language used throughout, Gilbert keeps everything moving with remarkable clarity.
David Wasserman is extraordinary as Renner. Wasserman appeared in the lead role of Randle McMurphy in Chameleon's production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest last fall, and he brings a great deal of the same sarcasm and snarky mischief to Renner. This time, though, he has a much more complex vortex of inner thought than he did with as the gregarious McMurphy. Wasserman draws us into Renner's searing intelligence, which alternately amuses and terrifies the young man. It is hard to like this brooding, self-satisfied young man, but we can sympathize with his anguish, an unceasing barrage of thought that gives him no rest.
Ariel Leaf has a steadying presence as Sarah, especially spot-on as the therapist, who despite Renner's obsession with infinity, must note the limits of a 50-minute session. Trevor Keith does a swell job as George, whose patience is most strained by Renner's incessant brooding and arrogance, a practical fellow in the here and now who sees no use for Renner's cosmological rants. As Eve, Eva Gemlo is excellent, shifting ever so slyly in her response to Renner from scene to scene, whether prim, sultry or in between. She breathes life into her characterizations to make us wonder, every time, is Eve real this time, or another product of Renner's endless writing?
Aside from that writing desk, covered in sheets of writing paper, some crunched up in balls after being rejected by their author, there is only a table and a couple of chairs to form the setting. Costume designer Lorine Menzhuber makes good use of overshirts and sweaters that can be easily shed to change the characters from scene to scene, with an especially clever touch being the look-alike sweaters for Renner and George, when the latter appears as the more supportive father figure. The lighting designed by Dietrich Poppen, is used effectively to illuminate Renner's encounters with different versions of his riffs on infinity.
I liked My Beautiful Infinity for its intriguing speculation about the nature of finite experience in the context of a universe that is infinite in time and space. Renner is not a likeable character, albeit his sharp wit is often amusing, and the play begins and ends without an emotional pay off. The play does pose questions as to where we are in the scheme of infinity, and what that means regarding control of our own destiny. Heady stuff, but presented in an engaging manner that keeps the audience on its toes, prompts a good number of laughs, and concludes in a way that amazingly shines hope on Renner's search for love on the shores of his beautiful infinity.
The Chameleon Theatre Circle's My Beautiful Infinity, through February 17, 2019, in the Black Box Theater at Artistry, Bloomington Center for the Arts, 1800 West Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington MN. Tickets: $25.00; Seniors, students and MN Fringe Button holders: $22.00; Thursday performances, buy one, get one free. For tickets call 952-232-0814 or visit www.chameleontheatre.org.
Playwright: David Vazdauskas; Director: Scott Gilbert; Scenic Design: Ursula Bowden; Costume Design: Lorine Menzhuber; Lighting Design: Dietrich Poppen; Sound Design: Forest Godfrey; Properties Design: Logan Gilbert-Guy; Stage Manager: Erin Green Vita.
Cast: Eva Gemlo (Eve), Trevor Keith (George), Ariel Leaf (Sarah), David Wasserman (Renner).