Usually it’s a bad sign when the director and actors are discussing continuity errors of crucial plot points two nights before their show debuts. However, this Second Stage production, directed by Coz Deicke ’15, functions a little differently than most other shows. Rather than starting with a script, Deicke worked backwards, focusing more on the range and personalities of the actors to deliver a very dynamic family drama.
When Deicke applied to Second Stage to direct this show, he submitted it under the new name of the ActorsFirst Project which, as the title would imply, starts out with the actors and then crafts the show around them.
“We started with auditions and interviews last semester, then proceeded to create the characters around them,” Deicke said.
Based on the personalities and experiences of the four actors, the characters and eventually the story were slowly but steadily workshopped into a two-act play. The benefit of this process is that it gives the actors a lot more creative control over their characters, turning the show, retitled as “About Face,” into a fluid, evolving piece up until its opening night.
“Actors will frequently add new lines to the script,” Deicke said. “Granted, that resulted in something very difficult to write and direct, but I think we’ve crafted something very different from most Second Stage shows.”
The show tells the tale of a dysfunctional Virginian family during Christmas. The story focuses on Lauren, (played by Melanie Parziale ’16), a shy college sophomore who decides to visit her estranged family after receiving word that her mother’s mental condition has gotten worse. Her mother, played by Mads O’Brien ’16, is a controlling, psychotic wreck who is addicted to painkillers, is in mourning her dead husband, and is obsessed with sketching “the perfect face.” When Lauren visits her mother and her long-suffering sister May (Dominique Cameron-Rouge ’16), tensions rise, and things only get worse when Lauren’s eccentric friend Penelope (Grace Nix ’15) inexplicably shows up to try to provide moral support.
What takes place over this two-act performance is an interesting mix of suspense and black comedy. As the secrets of this odd family unit are steadily revealed, the strange situations become darker and darker. O’Brien’s incomprehensible and domineering actions became genuinely uncomfortable to watch at times. Yet the tension is constantly laced with a dark sense of humor, especially thanks to the energetic performance of Nix. Admittedly, the mix between suspense and dark comedy becomes a little strange at times, but the dynamic between these characters is constantly gripping.
Whether this interesting method of crafting a play adds anything new to the show is up to the viewer, but no one can argue that it still succeeds as a bold, tense family drama. Come experience this interesting actors’ collaboration this weekend on Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Downey House.