In an era of reality television, it’s rare that a stage play addresses the topic in an interesting or subtle way. And while projections – live and pre-recorded – are seeing more use in the theater, it’s also rare that a play employs them effectively. Sezze Sun does both.
Sezze Sun is a play that was developed collaboratively by the cast and director based on an original script by Kate Mulley, and it concerns itself with a group of American and English tourists vacationing in the Italian town of Sezze. They’ve congregated at the behest of young actor/writer/filmmaker Ben (Matthew Charles) to celebrate his birthday, and you quickly learn that there is a good deal of history and emotional baggage between everyone on stage.
What makes this more than just a boilerplate living-room play is that Ben is having the goings-on in the house filmed, with the intention of making a sort of reality show. Indeed, the “reality” of reality TV is a major theme in the piece, particularly with a later plot twist that amps up the tension and turns the play’s focus in on itself.
Ben’s attempt to capture the events that take place on film is manifested by a single video camera on a wheeled tripod, which projects what it films live for the audience (but not the characters) to see, and which is controlled by Carly Hoogendyk, credited in the program simply as “Videographer.” She does not speak or interact with the others onstage, but the camera itself becomes a sort of observer character, and this particular device is one of the most fascinating aspects of this play. Through the eye of the camera, we see subtleties of expression we’d otherwise miss, and events are framed with it to heighten or lessen dramatic impact. Most comically, Ben, who’s the only one aware that it’s filming, often plays to it, and watching a good actor (i.e., Charles) play a ham actor is one of the more enjoyable aspects of the play.
At its best, Sezze Sun resembles a well-produced Chekhov play, with unspoken tensions constantly threatening to bubble over and intimacy often proving more dangerous than comfortable. The cast is very strong all-around, bringing just the right level of understatement to the dialogue. In particular, William Joseph Brookes is both hilarious and tragic as Ben’s effete uncle Hugh, and he doubles as Ben’s absent father, who appears via webcam. Karin de la Penha is equally charismatic as Hannah, Ben’s mother. But overall, this cast has no weak link to speak of.
On occasion, the dialogue feels aimless and meandering, and indeed, the play ends quite abruptly. (You could make the argument, and I would, that the script could have been developed into a successful full-length play.)
Sezze Sun is not a theatrical tour-de-force; its pleasures are more subtle. It doesn’t shy away from irony, but remains generally sincere. Most of all, there are some beautiful moments of raw humanity to be seen in this production – the sort of thing you won’t see in any reality show, as only strong writing and committed acting can produce them.