Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
This Random World
We first meet Scottie's two adult children, Beth (Heather Gordon) and Tim (Anthony Martinez), casually bickering, as siblings do, about caring for their mother, about each other's life/love choices, and, somewhat oddly, about deathseems Beth has her memorial service planned already, including writing her own obituary. She's taking a dangerous trip to Nepal and wants Tim to be prepared in case she doesn't return. Beth also laments that her mother doesn't travel or have any activities, and admonishes Tim to keep in touch with her.
But we soon learn that Scottie indeed travels, keeping it secret from her children with the help of her aide Bernadette (Rosie Frater). There's one trip she's planning, to a shrine in Japan located in "The Forest Where Lies Are Revealed." As scenes unfold in short "duets," we meet Claire (Paige Picard) and Gary (Ariel Zuckerman), a young couple negotiating a break-up in a dreary restaurant, as well as Rhonda (Chandler Parrott-Thomas), Bernadette's sister who works in a mortuary. Tim encounters her there when trying to get the self-obituary he posted online deletedwith both comic and serious consequences.
Lives intersect in surprising ways, unrelated characters suddenly meeting and bouncing off each other in cascading scenes, but no one is the wiser to the hidden connections, none being revealedexcept to the audience. There's laughter in the dialogue, but also poignant moments of revelation and self-awareness. A running current throughout touches on regret and dismay over bad choices or botched opportunities.
If Scottie could have seen the ripple effects of uncertainty, doubt, and missed connections playing out in the lives around her, she would have been happyfor an audience, it may be difficult to witness so much happenstance without a shred of serendipity, without once seeing characters recognize the hidden relationships. But, ultimately, there's a kind of comfort in knowing it doesn't really matter. Life is simply like that, Dietz seems to tell us; and you can't worry about it. There's so much of life we may never comprehend, so many opportunities lost, or connections we didn't makebut what of it? It's still Life being lived, relentlessly uncertain and filled with doubt. There are moments of clarity and even redemption thrown in, seemingly at random, for us to cherish.
The play suffers some toward the end from its own cleverness and an awkward finale that feels anticlimactic. After all that evasive maneuvering, it needs a more solid emotional punch to lift up the melancholy, to bring the narrative to a close and touch our hearts.
The excellent cast, however, does fine character work, both heartwarming and funny. Martinez and Gordon show many layers for their complex sibling characters, each possessing expert comic timing and yet able to turn serious and sympathetic. Frater musters emotional caring for her patient and her estranged sister. Parrott-Thomas delights as the enthusiastic and slightly wacky mortuary clerk, and then pairs more soberly with Gordon in a key scene at the shrine.
Picard as Claire and Zuckerman as Gary shine in their various scenes. Picard does well with some particularly thorny monologues, and Zuckerman shows off his considerable acting chops. DeBaun as Scottie admirably anchors the script, and gets to deliver what sounds like wisdom in a suitably casual tone. In a sense she's the playwright's raisonneurbut the character's default to regret mires her in the same soup as the others.
Argo Thompson's brilliant set design, combining Japanese simplicity with beautiful video projections and April George's gorgeous lighting, adds immeasurably to the whole experience. Sound design by Joe Winkler further enhances with thoughtful scene changes and ambient sound that never intrudes. Sandra Ish's costumes are appropriate and occasionally witty statements.
Director Phoebe Moyer guides solid performances from her first-rate cast, and keeps up the pace. At ninety minutes without intermission, the show moves smartly from scene to scene, serving up humor and food for thought. Desire for a more solid finale doesn't detract from the overall excellent work on an unusual script, and a stimulating narrative. You'll have time after the show for interesting reflection on the themes presented.
Left Edge Theatre's This Random World, through May 26, 2019, at Studio Theater, Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Rd., Santa Rosa CA. Tickets $25.00 - $40.00 can be purchased online at www.leftedgetheatre.com or by phone at 707-546-3600