Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Reel to Reel
Magic Theatre
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Jeannie's review of Good People and Patrick's review of Widowers' Houses

Will Marchetti and Carla Spindt
Photo by Julie Haber
"You can't really understand another person's marriage," says Walter Harp, husband of Maggie Spoon, whose 55-year relationship is on display in John Kolvenbach's Reel to Reel, now at the Magic Theatre in a world premiere production. "No one else can see what it's like on the inside."

But Reel to Reel isn't about seeing, it's about hearing what goes on inside a marriage. All the heated arguments, the clever comebacks, the cutting remarks, all the minutiae and boredom of married life, the drip-drip-drip of all the seconds that turn into minutes that suddenly stretch out into decades—what if those moments were recorded and preserved? What if the sounds of married life were catalogued and archived so that, after all the years had passed, you could go back and listen to what happened?

Reel to Reel takes its audience deep into the relationship of Walter and Maggie, across all 55 years of it—we see them at 27 and 42 (played by Andrew Pastides and Zoë Winters) and at 82 (Will Marchetti and Carla Spindt)—and we hear the sounds of their relationship. Maggie, we learn, was a sort of audio performance artist of some renown, fashioning shows from the sounds she has captured over the course of her life—including surreptitious recordings of her parents' pillow talk, hiding a microphone and tape recorder behind their headboard.

Despite this, the greatest sense of eavesdropping comes not from Maggie's domestic espionage, but from the revelations about Walter and Maggie that Kolvenbach's script so beautifully lays bare for us. He has so perfectly captured the marital shorthand and speech patterns that long-term couples develop, that we feel like we truly are flies on a wall, ears wide open to all the "boring, glorious" content of their marriage. Anyone who's been in a relationship for more than a decade or so can identify with references that are hopelessly vague to an outsider, but clearly make perfect sense to those in the relationship: "Where are my socks?" "Which ones?" "The ones I kind of like." "They're in the thing." Or: "Do you want to go to that place by the thing?"

Of course, early in the relationship, this secret marital code hasn't had time to develop, so they (especially Maggie) must be bolder, more open, and far, far less filtered. When the couple first meet, in a bedroom at a party, where the coats are piled up, Maggie's first words to Walter are, "Whoever it is you think you're with, she needs to know you're not coming home tonight." Hard to get more indicative than that.

All the sounds that help compose this story are created live on stage by the four actors, sometimes while in character, other times while sitting at chairs in front of music stands like foley artists, using a variety of ordinary household items (a metal pan, a cardboard tube, a gallon jug partially filled with water, others) to perform the soundtrack. When young Walter puts a Neil Young record on a turntable, it's Will Marchetti/older Walter who sings the opening lines of "Helpless."

While this all may sound gimmicky and incomplete, let me assure you this is the fault of my skills as a reviewer, and not a reflection on John Kolvenbach's wonderfully insightful and honest text. His loving, gentle, and incisive play lays bare the tender (or not so), unguarded moments of a relationship with both humor and empathy.

Kolvenbach, who also directed, is assisted by a marvelous cast who inhabit their characters completely and exhibit an easy chemistry that allows we in the audience to forget they are performers on a stage and revel in the secrets of human interaction they lay bare for us. Marchetti is solid, occasionally dour, but always sparking with life. Spindt expresses the artist inside her character with equal measures of confidence and humility. Andrew Pastides' young Walter is appropriately flummoxed by Maggie's impulsive courage, as portrayed by Zoë Winters, and in awe of her commitment to her art and to him. Winters exhibits a laser focus that never lets us forget just how in charge of her life her character is.

Reel to Reel is unlike anything currently playing on a Bay Area stage. But don't go simply because of its uniqueness. Go because that uniqueness is also touching, revealing, and life-affirming—and might even give you hope for your own relationship.

Reel to Reel runs through February 25, 2018, at Magic Theatre at Fort Mason, Two Marina Boulevard, Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco CA. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m., Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $35-$80 and are available online at, by phone at 415-441-8822, or in person at the box office, which is open Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Sunday one hour prior to curtain.