The valuable and venerable Open Fist Theatre Company opens its 30th Anniversary season with Rorschach Fest, a series of unique plays by playwrights known and little known. The performances are cataloged as Inkblot A, Inkblot B, and Inkblot C, and require the committed theatre-goer to return to the Atwater Village Theatre three times to experience the entire festival. My fraught schedule wouldn’t allow me to attend the performances in alphabetical order, so let’s begin with Inkblot B, which features Landscape by Harold Pinter and Never Swim Alone by Daniel MacIvor.
I consider it a privilege to attend a play by Mr. Pinter, even more so with a short play unknown to me. On a small platform with a table and two chairs, a man and a woman are seated at and near a long dinner table covered with a pristine tablecloth. The man, Duff (Tom Noga), sits facing toward stage left and talks to a woman, Beth (Laura James), who sits in a wooden armchair and faces out toward the audience. She muses over the past, particularly a summer day at the beach and a man she met there. Her pleasant face lights up like a beacon over the recollections.
Duff tries to engage her with talk of his doings—getting caught in the rain in a park, going for a pint at the pub, and the mundane activities of the house, where they perform jobs of housekeeper/cook and general handy man. Duff is very much here and now. Beth never responds to him and he becomes annoyed. Of course, the famed Pinter pause is very much in evidence, a vacuum that draws in the audience. I leaned forward into that pregnant void many times in expectation. As directed by Chris Cappiello with exquisite subtlety, Landscape is superb and the performances are sublime.
After a brief intermission that allows the crew to change the scene for Never Swim Alone, the audience re-enters to see what appears to be a beach scene with a white cloth draped over a life-guard perch, and a beach towel spread on the deck. Two men, Frank (Bryan Bertone), and Bill (Dylan Maddalena), enter down the aisle greeting the audience jovially as they pass by. They are dressed in very similar business suits. The white cloth gets whipped off to reveal a woman (Ann Marie Wilding) dressed as a referee. Through much of the play the men speak hilariously in near perfect unison, a vocal tour de force. The men banter back and forth and soon the referee blows her whistle. After a few times of whistle blowing, it becomes quite clear that this is a competition, especially when she starts calling out the rounds. At first it seems to be a relatively lighthearted competition, but soon it gets nasty, and, ultimately, down right murderous. Through it all, the competition pauses as the referee muses about the past and a lovely girl on the beach who encountered the men as teenagers.
Keenly directed by Amanda Weier, who saw the show many times in Chicago back in the late 1990s and brought the play to the company as a worthy project, Never Swim Alone is black comedy dynamite!
The Rorschach Fest creative team includes scenic designers Jan Munroe (Inkblots A and B) and Jim Spencer (Inkblot C); lighting designer Matt Richter; sound designer Tim Labor; and prop master Bruce Dickinson.
More later—Ink Blot A and Inkblot C are on my calendar.
The Rorschach Fest continues through April 5 at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles. Click on this link for exact dates and times: https://www.lucypr.com/Projects/Web/Rorschach_Calendar_Feb-March-April.pdf.