Life and Times (at the Public Theater) is likely to send you down a domino line of responses—
- How cool!
- Those actors—what stamina!
- This audience—what stamina!
- Screw stamina, I want out.
- …but this is kind of amazing…
- …why am I crying?
- INTERMISSION?! The show’s not over?!
And—repeat! repeat! repeat!
What show could be so strange as to conjure such schizophrenic feelings? What kind of a varied, diverse script could create such a roller coaster of an experience?
Something fascinatingly repetitive, banal, and mundane, that’s what.
A Soho Rep/ Nature Theater of Oklahoma production at Under the Radar, Life and Times is the musicalized result of a phone conversation between NTO company member Kristin Worrall and Life and Times directors Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper. As here represented, Worrall’s narrative—the story of her life—features stories and memories, but also anecdotes, tangents, and asides, with every “um,” “y’know” and “like” left intact. (It’s a verbatim-musical technique Adam Cork and Alecky Blythe used to different effect in the National Theatre‘s London Road—read about that production HERE.) Life and Times is broken into episodes; four of a projected sixteen are now in rep. I attended Episode One.
For three and a quarter hours, Worrall’s meandering, shuffled speech is set to cute, sometimes touching melodies played on piano, xylophone, flute, and ukelele, all sung by an ensemble of remarkable endurance (several actors almost never stop moving). Their movements usually match the pedestrian nature of the libretto: They bounce up and down, up and down, side to side, side to side; they add a spin, and an occasional choreo number; then it’s back to the bouncing. There are a few props (red balls here, yellow frisbees there), and their arrivals qualify as major events in an otherwise steady visual sphere.
But what of it?
Plays, and entertainment, usually live off revelation—the introduction of a new character, say, or the discovery of whodunnit. It’s a steady stream of new information that keeps an audience engaged. Life and Times discards with this MO from the first, and instead buries you, pebble by pebble, under the weight of repeated detail and repeated movement.
Occasional glimmers of transcendence burn through, but they feel more flukey than planned, and before they even start to fade, it’s back to the hops and the monologues, back to little tales of friendships and lunchtimes and parents and obsessions.
These pebbles don’t mean much on their own. But collectively, over the hours, they start to coat you, like so many layers of wax coating a wick; before long, a candle has appeared; before long, you feel, somehow, very different.
Why? You’ve had no choice but to bend to the will of the performers—the room is unequivocally theirs, and if you’re to survive, you have to get on board with them. You have to. Without knowing it, you adjust. Minute by minute, in a process only achieved through the arduous accumulation of time, you almost become one with them.
In this way, Life and Times becomes a case study in the strange, cool bond that can grow between performer and viewer: Even though you’ve not set a foot onstage, you feel like you have. You’re exhausted, they’re exhausted. It’s theatrical empathy, brought about by some of the strangest means I’ve ever encountered.
Just make sure to stretch at intermission.
Life and Times, Episode 1
The Public Theater/ Under the Radar/ Soho Rep/ Nature Theater of Oklahoma
Conceived and directed by Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper
Original Music by Robert M. Johanson, Julie LaMendola, and Daniel Gower
More info HERE.
Watch excerpts from Episode 1 HERE.
photo (above) by Reinhard Werner-Burgtheater; photo (middle) by Markus Scholz; photo (below) by theater-words; pictured: the beautifully renovated Public Theater.
LIKE WHAT YOU SEE? YOU MIGHT ENJOY…
— Alas, It’s True: We’re Gonna Die — thoughts on Young Jean Lee’s Cabaret
— Tyvek and Gaffe Tape — the SITI company tears it up in Under Construction