2/17/2020        THIS RANDOM WORLD:  THE MYTH OF SERENDIPITY         Out of Box Theatre                            
           

HOSTAGES OF CHANCE

(Bias Alert:  I have often worked with Out of Box Theatre – and hopefully will do so again one day – and tend to view their work through approval-tinted glasses.  I am also friends with several cast and crew members here.)

 

Have you ever looked back on the happiest moments of your life, and thought, “You know, if I had not done X, I would never have met Y, so we’d never have done Z?”  Optimists say that everything happens for a reason, that you are exactly at a point in life that the universe (or fate or God) intends you to be.

 

Playwright Steven Dietz, with This Random World, gives that idea a hearty Bronx Cheer.  Maybe even goes so far as to flip it the bird.

 

In essence, he creates a group of people then shows us all their missed connections.  He also suggests that, extremes of happiness aside, they all manage to muddle through and find other “chains of causation” on which to hang their hopes and dreams.

 

Tim and Beth are brother and sister, single thirty-somethings.  Beth is obsessed with “living life” on a razor’s edge and wishes their mother (Scottie) would do the same.  Beth also wants Tim to take a chance on love, maybe even reaching out to Claire, an ex-high school sweetheart.  Beth has put her affairs in order and written her own obituary, all in preparation for what may be a risky excursion to Nepal, suggesting Tim do the same.

Scotty, meanwhile, knows her end is near, and, for years, has been keeping her life of travel and adventure a secret from her helicopter children, confiding instead to Bernadette, her aide.  Bernadette has recently lost her own mother, and would prefer Scotty take her sister, Rhonda, on her latest trip, an excursion to a primeval Japanese forest and shrine.

 

Rhonda works at a funeral home with a reputation for “visits from the customers.”  Tim, as a prank, has hacked their computer network and written his own obituary.  He comes to make amends but can’t convince Rhonda he’s really alive.

 

Claire (remember Claire?  Tim’s High School sweetheart?) has just been dumped by her boyfriend, Gary.  She writes a long heart-felt post on Tim’s “Obituary Page” declaring her undying love.  Gary, meanwhile, is off to Tibet where he gets separated from his tour because of Beth.

 

And so on and so on and so on.

 

Dietz puts us in an omniscient position, letting us see how these characters are mere seconds away from learning secrets, meeting up, finding fulfillment.  And the joy of this piece is seeing how they’ll all  (eventually) be fine, how life (maybe even death) is not lived in 20/20 hindsight, but in braving the murky unknowns that lie one moment ahead.

 

He constructs the play as a series of two-character scenes (until the end) , shuffling the people as if they were couples at a square dance where the caller has a plan, but won’t share.  And, ultimately, the whole thing has the paradoxical effect of making us happy for the characters in spite of (maybe because of) the absence of that mythical serendipity in their lives.

 

Out of Box has gathered a very good cast who milk this script for all its ironies, for all its character-driven humor, for all its “who cares about the What-Ifs?” sensibilities.  Phyllis Giller is a vibrant Scotty, dragging Bernadette (a wryly affectionate Julie McCluskey) out EVERY morning to watch the sun rise (“See?  Not at all like yesterday’s!”), making her final days a series of “First Time I Ever” experiences.  You know that even death won’t bring quench her joy with life!

As her kids, Aaron Sherry and Emily Sams Brown start the show with a bang, showing us siblings who seem to be polar opposites, but, when all is said and done, are obviously siblings.  Bryn Striepe is a bundle of (barely) controlled anger and regret as Claire; her scene with Gary is a comic highlight and her “letter to Tim”  is  sadly sincere.  Gary SEEMS to be a major jerk in that first scene, but he proves himself later to be a (relatively) decent guy.  Maybe Claire truly “sucks at life” as she keeps telling herself.  Julianne Whitehead gives Rhonda a delightfully quirky air, and one of the pleasures of the script is that she is ultimately proven right about the {Deleted by the Spoiler Police}.  It should be also noted that {Deleted by the Spoiler Police} has a short uncredited cameo as {Deleted by the Spoiler Police}. 

 

Carolyn Choe’s set design, Nina Gooch’s lighting design, Matthew Busch’s Direction and Sound Design are ALL as good as they have ever been, simple, evocative, and effective.  There is even real rainfall at that Kyoto shrine (where two strangers meet who are more connected than either one will ever know). And, as familiar as I am Out of Box’s space, I am clueless as to how they did it (and prefer to remain clueless).

 

So, does your life have any “what ifs?”  Stupid question – everyone’s life does.  I can trace at least a dozen “crossroads” that would have substantially changed my present, and these are just those I know about.  What about those phone calls that were missed?  Those folks “beneath my radar” that thought the world of me but never dared to speak?  Those auditions I would have nailed if I had only known about them?  Those plays that would have “rocked my world” if I had only had the calendar space to schedule them? 

 

In the final analysis, This Random World assures us that not only are the answers to these questions  irrelevant, and but also that dwelling on them may lead to missing that moment that may be just ahead.

 

     -- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy     #oobRandomWorld)

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