I’ve never been a big theater person. My family has taken me to a few performances in my lifetime, but other than that, my interests lie elsewhere. So, it was a little daunting when the task of previewing the RPI Players’ latest show, An Evening of Performance, fell on me. I don’t have an eye for nuances in performances, and I’m uninitiated to the theater world. So, when I approached this article, I decided to take the angle of the RPI student who normally doesn’t attend theatrical shows, and even in this mindset, I found An Evening of Performance quite enjoyable.
The show is broken up into three separate plays. The first, Artist Descending a Staircase, was the longest play of the show and was also the strongest of the three. I had initially planned to take notes during the show, but as it got underway, I found myself far too engaged to even think about writing things down.
The play opens with three men in a room, with one man lying dead on the floor. The two men still living, Beauchamp and Martello, are in their elder years and are listening to a recording of the third man, Donner, dying. The two have come to the conclusion that Donner had fallen down a flight of stairs, but are unsure of whether his death was an accident or if he was murdered by one of them. This seems like a setup for a classic whodunit; however, halfway through the scene, the story flashes backward several hours to a time when Donner is still alive. Through the dialogue between Donner and Beauchamp, it is revealed that the three men are artists who still aspire to create, even in their later years.
It was around this point that I began to notice how dialogue-heavy this play is. That’s not a bad thing; I really liked learning the back stories of the three men through the conversations they shared. However, this form of exposition isn’t for everyone. After several scenes, the play takes its most interesting turn—it flashes back five decades to when the three men are young artists living in Paris. The story switches from a whodunit to an interesting love story between the artists and Sophia, a local blind woman who saw the three artists’ art exhibit before losing her sight completely.
The story bounces back and forth between comedy and tragedy. The scenes with the old men are always quite amusing, and a particular scene with their younger selves offers some of the best laughs of the play. However, the story of what happened between the characters is quite heart-wrenching thanks to the strong performances by the entire cast. The way the story is told is the best part, with the flashbacks and flashforwards offering an interesting way to lay out the story.
The next play was the most accessible and the funniest of the three. Wanda’s Visit is a much more straightforward story about a married couple who, after 13 years, have realized that their lives have started to grow stale. Things get shaken up when the husband, Jim, is contacted by a high school ex-girlfriend, Wanda, who wants to catch up on old times. When Wanda shows up, it’s clear that she has a few loose screws.
The play offers a great mix of funny dialogue and physical humor that even non-theater buffs can appreciate. Briavel Shultz ’10 was amusing as Wanda, delivering her absurd and sometimes too revealing stories perfectly, mixing the right amount of insanity and absentmindedness to the character. The most amusing parts of the entire play come from the exchanges between the clearly upset wife, Marsha, and Wanda.
The final play, Winter Fruit, left me scratching my head a little. The problem wasn’t in the performances: the cast did just as good a job delivering their lines as in the previous plays, but the story itself just didn’t explain exactly what was going on. All of the sudden, some girl was stolen from her lover and taken into hell, or the netherworld. It isn’t really explained where she is or who exactly the demon or evil person is who stole her. Afterward, I read that Winter Fruit is a modern adaptation of the Greek myth of Persephone, but neither Persephone nor Hades’ names were mentioned, so I was left with simply a bunch of nameless characters.
Overall, An Evening of Performance was quite a surprise. The acting was solid and the entire show was stellar. I never imagined I could have enjoyed a play as much as I did. People who normally skip Players performances should consider checking this one out. You never know, maybe you’ll enjoy it too.
Editor’s note: An Evening of Performance will be playing over the next two weekends. It premieres this Friday, February 19, at 8 pm.
The order of the shows has also changed and will be presented in the following order: Wanda’s Visit, Winterfruit, and Artist Descending a Staircase.