THIS RANDOM WORLD
By Steven Dietz
Director - Steven Pounders
Costume Design - Sarah Tonemah
Set Design - Clare Floyd DeVries
Props Design - Megan Beddingfield
Lighting Design - John Leach
Sound Design - David H.M. Lambert
Stage Manager - Megan Beddingfield
Desirée Fultz (Beth Ward)
Kyle Igneczi (Tim Ward)
Libby Villari (Scottie Ward)
Crystal Williams (Bernadette)
Camille Monae (Rhonda)
Jovane Caamaño (Gary)
Catherine D. DuBord (Claire)
Reviewed Performance: 1/27/2018
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Serendipity. Coincidence. Happenstance. How many times does one minor event, a missed word, a stray look, a left turn rather than right, affect the course of our life? How might missing someone a minute early or late change the way we see the world? Synchronicity often puts us into proximity with people we need to connect with, but it may just as easily slip past us unseen.
Steven Dietz explored this subject in This Random World, now in its regional premier at Circle Theatre in Sundance Square.
In this story, a group of people connected in ways some don't recognize is frustrated in their attempt to control their lives because they don't know what they don't know or who they're talking with. They cross paths with people who can help, but in ways that miss the revelation they could learn. Missed opportunities.
Steven Pounders directed this story with Circle's production design team and a visibly unified and professional cast. It's a pleasure to see a show where the cast and crew buy-in to the story and the director's vision so fully.
The stage was about as simple as Clare Floyd DeVries could imagine it. A simple wooden crate platform filled part of the rear of an empty stage and its importance came late in the show with an impressive special effect you seldom see in smaller theaters. Small pieces of furniture were shuffled on and off by actors with a unique movement that could only be called choreography. This allowed fast, seamless, and interesting scene changes, from an apartment to a retirement home to hospital to Nepal to Japan. Kudos to Pounders and the design team for small details that make a big impact.
Actors manipulated these furniture pieces, such as a small rug, a bar for a funeral home, a dining table in a bad diner, as if they were personal props. Added to these were character props for stage business from Megan Beddingfield. A laptop, a wreath stand, overcoats, umbrella, small brass goblet - these small, inconsequential items made the action seem more natural and became important pieces of each character's story. Circle's design teams are really good at sweating the small stuff.
John Leach and David Lambert provided understated, but effective, lighting and sound that, though subtle, provided an atmospheric underpinning to keep actors lit and colored naturally with a few sound effects suggesting locations.
Sarah Tonemah's costumes were so normal you could imagine actors stepping out of the audience. Simple casual modern clothing was the normal fare, with a few forays into hyperbole, such as parkas for Nepal, a hospital gown, some dressy suits here and there. But scene changes were fast, so costume changes had to be simple and this was noticeable.
This Random World is a series of 2-person conversations as characters encounter each other. It opens with Desirée Fultz as Beth Ward and Kyle Igneczi as Tim Ward. The brother and sister lament life choices by their mother, Scottie, who's apparently wasting her elder years in a home, though she always wanted to travel. Of course, this drives Beth to choose to be different by micromanaging her own future funeral and by taking dangerous adventure trips. Tim, on the other hand, has his own crises and argues their mother is doing the best thing at her age, and perhaps his. Fultz showed Beth's impetuous drive to control everything, even if it might be fatal. Igneczi showed Tim's slovenly need to hibernate, wallow in his depression, and worry about everything that's going wrong. The only time he attempts to be spontaneous turns into a disaster. Together these two actors created a chemistry that seemed very sibling-ish and showed how families can become dysfunctional for the barest of reasons.
Scottie, played by Libby Villari, is a woman of many mysteries. On the one hand she plays out her public life as an elder waiting for the end. On the other, she takes secret world adventures and keeps her kids in the dark about it. Vallari created a woman who apparently spent a lifetime knowing with certainty how life should work, but is now doubting more, questioning more, learning that the world is not so certain. Scottie wants to assert her real name and Villari showed this subtle, simmering resentment for having to live her life as a pet name. For Scottie, the random missed connections were intentional.
Scottie's closest relationship is with Bernadette, her hired caregiver. Crystal Williams played "Bernie" as a close confidant, probably her only friend, and travel companion. This seems a thankless task, as Scottie is demanding, but Williams portrayed Bernadette's quiet patience and understanding of the challenges of aging. Though Bernie has issues with her own sister and the recent passing of her mother, Williams shows Bernie's dedication to making life easy for Scottie as a strength, while still revealing Bernie's own quiet pain about her family.
Bernie's sister is Rhonda, played comically by Camille Monae. Rhonda works in a funeral home, assisting families with the passing of their family members. She also "sees" the formerly-deceased return to oversee their accommodations and look for their own closure. This becomes an important connection for Tim Ward in his experiment with getting outside his norm. Monae played Rhonda with a hearty mix of otherworldly, flighty funeral assistant and an unstated resentment against Bernadette for how their mother's funeral and estate was handled. Monae mixed her comic subtext with her hurt sister subtext and had a great character transformation to something positive, as she encountered Scottie, Tim and Beth, each in their moments of chaos. Her comedy made some otherwise uncomfortable moments sparkle.
Two other characters play crucial roles. Both have multiple encounters with the others at times when a single word could make the connections clear. But those words are missed or ignored.
Catherine D. DuBord played Claire, another comic relief with important functions for the story. She's a head-case, while reeling from a painful rejection. She's been dumped by her boyfriend, Gary, in a really bad diner, and reacts irrationally, though hilariously and understandably. Later she meets Tim Ward, her old boyfriend from twelve years earlier, and rather than seeing him as the possible solution to her, decides he's an imposter. It's an amazing turn by DuBord in playing both sides of an argument at the same time with emotions running rampant. It's one many high points.
Jovane Caamaño created Gary, the boyfriend who dumps Claire in that bad diner. Caamaño portrayed a guy many of us can relate to, having to sit across the table from a girlfriend who's been hurt by our own missed words. His version of how Gary reacts to this tirade was funny, sad and uncomfortable at the same time, and he barely spoke a word. His reactions were all physical. Later Gary encounters Beth Ward on a Nepalese mountain and Tim Ward in a hospital. In each of these scenes, many words are said that nearly reveal the truth, but each time they're too self-focused to see anything so obvious. Caamaño had to create different personas for each of these scenes and does a great job showing how tenuous those moments can be.
You might say the Ward family is the main character in this play with their big family issues and the challenges they face, but interactions with others become so important the other characters are crucial to the theme. I love a Shakespearean tendency to make each ensemble character an important plot point. The "evil" character in this story, if there is such a thing, is the randomness of normal life. Each character tries to live with some kind of dignity and ease, but life maneuvers them repeatedly away from their goal, though it gets them enticingly close.
Steven Pounders writes in his Director's Notes, Coincidence, the random intersection of connected lives, is a staple of theatrical story-telling. Dietz has made this the theme and Circle's production puts all the pieces together to deliver this message. Listen and pay attention.
There was one final cameo performance by an unlisted actor of an unlisted character spoken about during the story, and that moment was a nice touch in the final scene to close out details for the audience, though characters never knew it. But that, like the special effect on that crate platform mentioned earlier, will have to go unrevealed. It's one many reasons you need to have your own random encounter at Circle Theatre to see This Random World. You never know who might be sitting next to you. 6 Degrees anyone?
THIS RANDOM WORLD
230 West 4th Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76102
Plays through February 24th
Friday, February 2, 8:00 pm
($5 students - $10 faculty & staff)
Thursday at 7:30 pm ($25 - $33)
Fridays at 8:00 pm ($30 - $38)
Saturdays at 3:00 pm ($25 - $33)
Saturdays at 8:00 pm ($30 - $38)
For information and tickets, visit http://www.circletheatre.com or call 817-877-3040.