Read, sleep, repeat. Grad students run this sad circuit every week, none more so than those in law school. What workaholic wunderkind hasn’t passed out face-down in a stack of books from time to time, the clock ticking onward toward the big exam?
Surely the stuff of anxiety dreams. Which is why playwright and director Kathleen Akerley does well to set her cerebral new mystery play amid the stacks of a law school library — a familiar netherworld with the power to scrunch time, space, and insomniac visions into surreal new shapes.
Dana (played by Heather Haney) is one such ill-fated student. As the play opens she is baffled by a new seeming slipperiness of reality. The dreams she’s managing in-between cram sessions are growing so vivid that they’re beginning to intrude on her waking routine. These dreams — at times charmingly absurdist, at other moments sharp and foreboding — overlay so seamlessly onto her conscious routine that we, like her, must watch with heightened attention, trying to parse the worlds before utter dislocation sets in.
The electric void in Goldfish Thinking is the distance between wakefulness and sleep — and sometimes, conversely, the sudden collision of the two. At her core Dana is clear and empirical, her train of thought chugging through the dark toward some stationary sense of what’s real. But — mind the gap! — a dead body (Slice Hicks) appears on the floor. The body wakes, then falls cold once more. A private eye (Tyler Herman) slides into the scene. He’s joined later by Chairman Mao (Chris Davenport), a menacing leaping woman with hair madly afrizz (Anna Brungardt), and a strange array of dream figures. Snagged between dreams and reality, accosted by scraps of scenarios, Dana attempts to muscle her way out of the maze of her mind and back into the comforting tedium of the study hall.
By now, I’m sure it’s clear that the flow of Longacre Lea’s new show is far from linear. The stage, nicely imagined by set designer Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden, is a stack of enormous books, which puts a neat Alice-In-Wonderland twist on the library setting, and Neil McFadden’s multi-layered sound design successfully feeds a feeling of weird. And indeed, the story seems to worm its way in and out of story land rather than methodically flipping pages.
Longacre Lea presents
The Callan Theatre
3801 Harewood Road NE
Closes Sept 9, 2012
2 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $15 – $18
Wednesdays thru Saturdays at 7:30pm;
Sundays at 2pm
The endeavor might have proven too heady if it weren’t shot through with such genuine whimsy. As Dana’s study buddy Warner (Michael Glenn) sets out to solve the riddle of what’s real, his puzzle-solving duties take on a Scooby-Doo sense of pep and purpose. As fellow members of the book bunch, actors Ashley DeMain and Williams Hayes round out the main crew nicely. Jesse Terrill brings notable focus and smart rhythm to his several roles. And everyone is having real fun. If you’re going to get discombobulated, these are the folks to do it with.
Unsolved segments spin in your mind after the lights come down, but the lingering hum in your brain is worth cradling. Goldfish Thinking is exploratory at its core, so come ready to wander some heavily thicketed trails. But as an enjoyable ensemble act of brain-tweakery — and an intriguing dive into one young student’s inner anxieties — Goldfish meets its goals. Congrats, insomniacs, on passing the bar.
Goldfish Thinking written and directed by Kathleen Akerley; Assistant Director Tom Carman, sets, Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden; lights, John Burkland; sound, Neil McFadden; costumes, Gail Stewart Beach; featuring Anna Brungardt, Chris Davenport, Ashley DeMain, Michael Glenn, Heather Haney, William Hayes, Tyler Herman, Slice Hicks, Jennifer Hopkins and Jesse Terrill.
Reviewed by Hunter Styles