by: Sandi Durell
Stretching the boundaries of theater, especially off Broadway, is especially attractive to the avid, avant garde aficionados. Julien Schwab, the playwright, was well aware of this when he ventured into the imagination to create RogerandTom, currently at Here Arts Center.
What’s going on? Well, for one thing a set by David Esler that clearly breaks the fourth wall, since there are no walls, just mere taped lines and vertical strings to the ceiling indicating rooms in an apartment and a hint at furnishings. The audience is seated on opposite sides of the set, looking at each other. Mirrored see-through effect similar to what is about to transpire on the set.
We haven’t exactly noticed but just one person breaks the rules and walks across the set to take a seat, while everyone else makes their way around it.
We’re accosted by a frantic gal named Penny (Suze Jane Hunt) entering the apartment – she’s looking for something in, around, under, over as a knock on the door comes and her soon-to-be-divorced husband Rich (Richard Thieriot) enters, apologizing that the boxes we see scattered about have not been moved out as yet. What begins as polite chat soon evolves into clear anger. Penny fills Rich in that her brother Roger is on his way to attend their brother Tom’s play. This is her ploy to bring Roger and Tom together after 5 years. But, meantime, could Rich please pretend that he and Penny are still a couple. Maybe a little suspicion here as some absurdist dialogue is duly noted.
Ah ha – – a cellphone goes off in the audience and it’s Roger (Eric T. Miller) sitting right there with us. Roger tries to make his way across the stage and out of the theater, but Rich will have none of that as he tells Roger he has no choice here because his brother Tom wrote this play just for him. Roger doesn’t really seem to know what Rich is talking about. Penny doesn’t seem to be too involved at this point nor an actual part of this play until Roger starts walking thru “walls.” That’s when she falls apart – “my life is a punch line to somebody else’s joke.”
And the joke is on all of us as we’re now part of the metatheatricality of a play within a play, a hoax, a script, a play where fourth wall is just words – “an imaginary circumstance presented in a truthful manner.” Think of it akin to an erector set where you can build any which way you please or just tear it apart and start again.
Suzy Jane Hunt has the hardest job of all – scared, frantic, hysterical – and portrays them all with aplomb, while Rich Thieriot seems to be having the most fun orchestrating the show, while Eric T. Miller morphs from disbeliever to advocate.
Skillfully directed by Nicholas Cotz we can’t help but be caught up in the cleverness of the play, albeit for some they may need a roadmap.
RogerandTom runs thru August 24th at Here Arts Center, 145 Ave. of the Americas (enter on Dominick St.) 212 352-3101 here.org
*Photos: Taylor Hooper
Editor’s Note: Here at TP we’re happy to hear different opinions on the same play.