The other day I was riding the train home when a man on the far end of the car started shouting something that at first sounded like a religious rant. But then another man started shouting from the other end of the car and the next thing I knew I was caught in the middle of Act 5 of Romeo and Juliet, complete with a mimed sword fight and an “I am slain!” death scene. Blueprint Theater Project’s innovative new series The Human Variations reminded me of that day on the train. It brings theater into a public setting and offers a possible glimpse of what theater might evolve into.
Perhaps it’s not an evolution but rather a devolution that is bringing theater back to the street or public setting that it came from. Whatever it is, I have really enjoyed the first two installments of this series. The pilot, Scherzo, premiered in a quaint uptown tea house. This second part, Largo, is set in a trendy downtown bar that includes velvet ropes out front, a rude bartender, and the worst generic chick-a-boom dance music blaring on the sound system. After half an hour of waiting for the show to start I thought maybe this it…maybe the show is the audience and I’m supposed to be observing their interactions, but thankfully, the music finally comes down and the actors take their places around the bar. Just as in the previous installment there is no discernible plot in Largo but rather a string of moments between desperate and vain young adults who are looking for love that they don’t actually want to hold on to. They flirt and flaunt their stuff as they expose how shallow and lost they all are. The “stage” drips with lust and aggression that folds perfectly into the bar setting.
Playwright David Alex Andrejko again offers dialogue that swings from being trite and banal to introspective and sad—often funny and very natural. It is like eavesdropping on a random set of conversations. Andrejko also introduces moments that are creepy, such as the girl who declares that she likes trouble which, of course, attracts trouble; and he juxtaposes them with moments that are profound in their look at the human soul. Director Ellen Orenstein adds stylized action that is a great combination of naturalism and fantasy. Characters often break from their reality and awkwardly dance or move in synchronized postures with their cell phones. Even though we are not in a theater, Orenstein never lets us forget that this is theater. Another element that really draws you in is the original music courtesy of Kevin Becker and Alex Winston. It fills every scene with its soulful hipness.
The cast—Molly Groome, Nick Hepsoe, Jillian Mason, Meissa McNernery, Matt Sweet, and Zac Walker (some are returning cast members and there are two new ones)—are right-on with their portrayals of these lost young adults living in an unforgiving and overbearing world. They are very cohesive and they play off of each other very well. This second installment has much more dialogue and emotion than the previous, so we get to see them show off their skills a little more here.
This is really very cool theater. It’s like a mashup of a reality show and decadent theater. It appears that the story is getting darker and I am very interested to see what Blueprint has in store for the next installment. Don’t worry if you missed the first one. You can catch this show from here and I recommend you do.