Whatever Review - This Show is Just, Like, Whatever

 

L-R: Aaron Lockman, Grace Melon. Photo by Scott Dray

 

In theatre, as in life, it is difficult to find the perfect partner. Playwright Robert Tenges and side project artistic director Adam Webster, however, seem to have found just such a partner in one another. The two first met ten years ago, when Tenges blindly submitted his play Strangers Knocking to the side project, and the first of a series of collaborations began. Webster describes his initial reaction to Tenges’ work in almost reverent terms: “I became enraptured by his economical use of language.” Tenges, too, felt he had found someone who shared his aesthetic values and who highly respected his work: ““I’m very spoiled in that I feel Adam is the city’s greatest champion of new plays.”

 

L-R: Bryan Breau, Grace Melon. Photo by Scott Dray

 

Whatever, the story of two teenagers, one facing an abortion and the other struggling to control his anger management issues, marks the pair’s fourth collaboration. What made this project unique, however, is the degree of completeness of the script at the start of the process. Webster agreed to direct the production while the script was still in its early stages: “Plays are usually 80-90% done when we get them,” said Webster, but this one was only “40-50% done.” Tenges was honored that Webster had so much faith in him, but also found the incompleteness of the script challenging, as he had to work under the pressure of a deadline and felt very exposed sharing his writing with others before it was fully polished.

 

L-R: Josh Odor, Michael Rice. Photo by Scott Dray

 

Webster’s process is very actor-focused and involves a lot of table work; actors spend the first few weeks of the rehearsal process just talking through the script and making sure that everyone is on the same page. “He absolutely ensures that there is completely clarity among the actors,” says Tenges. Throughout this process, Tenges is in rehearsals and is making revisions to the script as needed, pruning it down so that every line of every scene is completely necessary to the story. “Robert is very good at being brutal with his own work,” says Webster, “and he’s all about betterment of the work and the project as a whole rather than himself as a writer.”

 

L-R: Aaron Lockman, Shawna Tucker. Photo by Scott Dray

 

Both artists emphasize the importance of the actors in the work, and both feel that the excitement of originating a role and participating in a world premiere gives the actors an important investment and voice in the creation of the work. The small space of the side project affects the work as well, with Webster describing it as the “second character of the play.” The actors’ intimacy with the audience leads to a style of acting that is, in Webster’s words, “an exciting amalgamation” of stage and film acting, requiring precision and naturalism.

 

L-R: Grace Melon, Josh Odor, Kirsten D’Aurelio. Photo by Scott Dray

 

After hearing both playwright and director gush about this symbiotic partnership, I was eager to see their work in person. Unfortunately, Whatever just didn’t work for me. From the first scene, the actors’ energy levels were so low as to make them feel lethargic, and while I hoped this was merely a stereotypical portrayal of teenagers as being apathetic, this continued into the adult actors’ scenes as well. The show’s pacing was slow, and the pauses between lines felt less like naturalism than simply an abundance of dead air. Overall, the acting style led to a kind of detachment with the audience, making it difficult for me to feel invested in any of the characters’ struggles. The best scene, acting-wise, of the entire show was the one shared by Rachel (Kirsten D’Aurelio) and Ivy (Shawna Tucker). The adult women seemed to be the only characters who could relate to one another on any sort of human level, and the two seasoned actresses were the strongest performers onstage.

 

L-R: Shawna Tucker, Kirsten D’Aurelio. Photo by Scott Dray

 

In some instances, I felt that Tenges’ commitment to eliminating the unnecessary went a bit too far, with some scenes, such as Rachel‘s lengthy phone conversation with her mother and an unknown character named Jonathan, becoming confusing in the absence of additional information. The script felt predictable in places, as well; the information that Declan, off his meds, had a gun in his house made a shooting death seem inevitable from the first scene, and the revelation that Chloe’s baby was not her boyfriend’s was not at all shocking in the way I think it was meant to be.

 

L-R: Grace Melon, Bryan Breau. Photo by Scott Dray

 

Not having seen any of Webster and Tenges’ other collaborations, I will reserve judgement on the effectiveness of their artistic process. Although Whatever did not live up to my expectations, I wish them luck in their future endeavors.

 

Whatever has been extended through August 23, 2015 at the side project theatre. Shows until August 9 are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 3pm. The performance schedule for the two-week extension will be Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pmSaturday, August 15 at 8:30 pmSaturday, August 22 at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pmTickets and additional information can be found at the side project website.

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