Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


11.09.2009

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Because construction traffic had kept me from seeing the first ten minutes of An Infinite Ache, I returned to the Williamston Theatre for the closing performance to get the whole experience. Interestingly, I found that "the whole experience" I had expected wasn't possible to get on the second try.

I expected a hilarious romp during the expository minutes, as mentioned by one reviewer; indeed, there were plenty of laughs from the start. However, because of the circuitous and unpredictable nature of the show's timeline, I found myself prematurely returning to my emotional state at the play's end. [The show has closed now; it's no longer a spoiler for this production if I reveal that the entire audience was reduced to snuffling and eye-wiping.] Even as I laughed along at the show's many funny moments — indeed, the larger crowd that joined me for my second viewing eagerly ate up the comedy — I felt like I was already at the closing, simply luxuriating in the memory of these lives, instead of living them along with the characters as I had the first time.

However different, both of these viewing experiences were extremely satisfying. The uninterrupted ninety-minute production both flew by and held all of the depth and resonance of a longer two-act play. This may be my favorite performance by Aral Basil Gribble II to date; I confess a serious bias in favor of Gribble, but I believe it's borne out by the body of work I've seen. Perhaps in contrast to Gribble's breezy ability to connect with an audience, it took me more time to warm up to Jasmine Rivera, but her range and stunning transformation into a middle-aged and then elderly woman were extremely affecting. (When you see two twenty- or thirty-something actors move set pieces around while playing "old," and you start to wonder whether they're strong enough to lift that chair, that's untold points in their favor.) The relationship between Charles and Hope was believable and grounded every second, no small feat considering the script's unremarked-upon transitions and occasional shifts in pattern. Tony Caselli's expert direction made what could have been a quagmire into a single, simple tale.

It may not have been the best idea to include a white carpet in the set design of a black-box theater (concern about patrons' dirty shoes trodding across it was shown by "KEEP OFF" signage), but the overall effect was worth it. With a bed as the centerpiece, the carefully handled shifts in time were supplemented with changes in d├ęcor that told the complete story of a relationship's stages. The result was a series of different livable and lived-in spaces that flowed with the creative staging. Similarly, the lighting design was helpful but subtle, especially during a lively and humorous middle-of-the-night sequence that made bold use of darkness. The costume design as well provided just enough touches to convincingly age the characters without crossing into parody.

The effectiveness of the play's conclusion was no worse off for my knowledge of what was coming; I was still overwhelmed, and grateful for the few minutes' denouement that allowed me to compose myself. This wasn't a production easily shaken off after emerging from the theater into the sunlight.

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