Paradoxes and temporal causality loops may seem like the stuff of science fiction but playwrights have been toying with reality in this manner since pen was first put to page. From Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author to Durang’s Actor’s Nightmare, the line that divides a character in a play and a character in a play within a play has been crossed in highly inventive and provocative ways. Building on his predecessor’s avant-garde thinking, playwright Julien Schwab has written one of the most cleverly constructed plays that I’ve seen in a long time.
At lights up, we see an apartment mapped out with architectural drafting lines on the floor and string running up to the ceiling. Penny enters, frantically looking for something with the lights leading her from place to place. These are the first clues that the conventions of theatre are going to be fully exposed in this play. The fourth wall will be torn down and the line between reality and imaginary will be crossed as this story of the relationship of two brothers develops. Tom is a playwright. He writes play after play about his supposedly deadbeat brother, Roger. In this particular play, they have a sister named Penny (though in “reality” they don’t have a sister) and she is in the process of divorcing her husband Richard. Tom’s hope that one day Roger will come to see one of his plays comes true only Roger isn’t having it. Seated in the audience, he gets up to walk out on this fiction about his life but Richard (actually William, the actor playing Richard) won’t let him leave. As an actor and a character, Richard is the only one with a foot in both worlds. Roger is stuck in the “real world” while Penny is locked into the reality of the play. Eventually they cross over with Roger reluctantly agreeing to play along and be a character while Penny is shocked to discover that she can walk through walls.
Schwab divides his time blurring the line between realities and revealing what went wrong in Roger and Tom’s relationship. He layers the innate confusion over what is real and what is fiction with the highly charged emotions that surround their kinship. His dialogue is genuine and funny. The characters speak their heart - never playing games or saying one thing but meaning another. The plot folds back around on itself and while sometimes cyclical storytelling can make you feel like you didn’t go anywhere, Schwab brilliantly uses the convention to take the relationship to the next level. Director Nicholas Cotz finds countless bits of action that propel and uplift the story. Keeping the action tangible when presiding over different realities can be tricky but Cotz proves that he is more than up to the task.
The three person cast is fantastic! Their commitment to the incongruity of the realities is extraordinary. This play would not work were it not for their exceptional talent and dedication. Suzy Jane Hunt is great in the role of Penny. She adds plenty of heart and soul in to mix. Jonathan Tindle is terrific as Richard. He is the perfect voice of reason. Eric T. Miller shines brightest in his role of the “everyman” Roger, who gets swept up into the world of actors. Miller’s subtlety in pulling the audience to his side is remarkable. I was with him the whole way.
For a play filled with paradoxes,rogerandtom is incredibly engaging and even a little heartwarming in the end. It is funny and extremely innovative with a cast that is second to none. The writing and direction is brilliant and the production is flawlessly executed. I highly recommend checking this one out before it slips into a reality that we’re not privy to.