|[L to R] Rhodes, Radochia and Waldron perform.|
Photo from Simple Machine Theatre.
SOMERVILLE—After walking down Elm St. and settling in Davis Square Theatre for Simple Machine’s presentation of rogerandtom, a few objects come into view. The four chairs, stacked white boxes, the bookshelf loaded with blank white books and the antique telephone are meant to represent Penny’s apartment. Really, though, they’re just a couple of chairs, some boxes, a telephone and a half-full bookshelf—right?
Directed by Stephen Libby and written by playwright Julien Schwab, rogerandtom is about the collapsing of existential notions. It’s a play within a play. Its characters are estranged from themselves and from each other. The universe of reality they’ve inhabited starts to slide from the start. Confusion falls at their feet and from their mouths, at times letting the audience in on the joke, and other times laughing right back. Waves of omniscience bounce off the walls.
The acting from the three-person cast is to be admired. Penny, played by Anna Waldron, exhibits the pent-up articulation of a fictitious character too naïve to know she exists only in the play. She shrieks, she cries, lets out sighs of relief, and makes the audience swing with her every mood. Stephen Radochia who plays Richard, Penny’s husband, anchors the whole charade, keeping the audience and the characters calm and collected amidst the chaos. Andrew Rhodes’ Roger is the glue between Pretend and Reality. He spat with nervous energy, always cautious, with eyes shifting strongly and hands moving in and out of the pockets of his swishy vest. They are characters trapped in their own skewered timeline.
Schwab, who has lend an outstretched hand to the medium with various productions in New York and Los Angeles, has crafted a very peculiar type of play. It breaks the fourth wall down early on then, scrambles to pick up the blocks and build it up again. It could’ve been wrenched from Charlie Kaufman’s brain or skimmed of Eugène Ionesco’s thoughts. It’s absurd, yes, but it’s more than just that.
Rather than rely easily on the befuddlement of the audience, it strives to dig deeper and uncover hidden truths of each character. Through each wacky, neck-craning layer, a real story unfolds inside a larger story until they both run parallel, revealing a strange bit of sentimental surrealism at the end. It could be everywhere at once or nowhere at all. As Radochia’s Richard says, “It’s about family, love, but mostly, it’s about theatre.” rogerandtom plays through April 7 with a live conversation with Schwab and the rest of the artists hosted by Veronica Barron at 3 p.m. today. Say nothing if you understand.