Test (second review)

Test1Playwright: Stephen Near
Director: Aaron Joel Craig
Cast: Stephen Near, Sara Weber

Review by: Tom Mackan

Starkly set in HTI’s workable space, in black, furnished with two straight-backed black chairs facing forward and apart by six or so feet of the space, “Test” begins in blackness. Stage Manager Lauren Repei (a remarkable actor herself in another life) throws her switch and the space reveals two adults, a man and a woman, costumed in black hinting at the occult. For her, floor length ensemble of belted black gown with accompanying floor-length, hooded cape, black also, the belt providing the only colour, a light-catching  metallic blue enamel in the large fastener; for him, black suit of priestly cut, high-buttoned jacket, dark shirt and tie, iconic symbols in the form of metallic pins attached to the lapels and a thin stole of some kind of authority from one shoulder and across the chest. Both actors appear tall and accustomed to high office, yet oddly enough, their visages are round and healthy and not as imperious as all costuming would have us consider. I like it. I like the idea that kind of contradiction. And it’s effectively carried through, dear readers. Near’s play comes on all serious and pompous, but he’s got a comedy lying around inside him that wriggles out, much assisted by the same contradiction-device. Wait, however, as the progress of the play develops cerebrally. If our left and right brains are not set up and ready immediately, and ours weren’t, it takes a little bit before we catch on. And even then, not fully, maybe.

This is a dialogue play that risks show-time disaster were it not for the excellence of the writing and the acting. With a bit of change from an hour of delivery we are seduced into the workings of the contemporary (forgive this word) “geek” role-playing phenomenon. Fate has brought me into some close contact through social computer networking with the other-world that exists out there among the highly gifted of the post-adolescent society, and I’m beyond surprised at how far into adulthood it lasts. Another descriptive is “nerd” that hovers around the term “offensive” unless the nerds themselves admit you into their periphery.

Readers, do see this play, but be sure to read the programme notes, and don’t miss the Glossary on the back. Unless you’re a nerd (meant nicely) you’ll need these. It’ll save time writing (and reading) this review, too.

Stephen Near and Sara Weber, once past being frightening, are sensational in their playing of the two characters, Drew and Dana (respectively). My dears, this is such clever dialogue and they’ve not only mastered its intelligent construction, but have absorbed it. Their pace and timing are impeccable, and when we realize that we’re watching mercurial nano-seconds of dynamic shifts from role to reality, we have succumbed to the enjoyment of them. We wonder at first what kind of truth in life these two people come from.. like, who are they, what do their parents or their friends call them, that kind of thing. Not long into the progress of the thing I became a friend, and I know what I call them. A couple of born-again fantasists still growing up. Sara Weber is a marvelous actor. She’s mastered the contempo-speak (my term) of the under 20s… she’s “so not ready”, she’s “like, you know”. Her Dana moves from sacerdotal pompous to young modern sophist as gracefully as a swan to water. Awfully good stuff. For Stephen Near, as Drew, we have to account for the “playwright/producer” tag he carries along with “Drew”. These are all his words, this is his story plan, but to his great credit, he brings Drew into his stage reality very convincingly in spite of it, and at the final curtain, his success is sweet.

I do recommend this production to you, dear readers. Let it grow on you, if it gives you initial pause, just allow it move at its lovely rhythmic pace, and soon enough you’ll be smiling and enjoying these really basically funny people who come from that not so forbidding world of Geekness. When you meet your next nerd, relax. Now, one more thing. Not for me to go into now, but if you’re in the right zone, as are these two fine actors, you will learn a lot about what makes relationships, how they form, come together, fall apart, meet again, try to mend, and continue to test themselves. The title of the play will light up. It’s at the comfortable and welcoming HTI venue on McNab Street. Tell them I sent you.

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