Deonna Bouye & Beth Dixon in This Random World.
Photo by Bill Brymer.
This Random World
By Steven Dietz
Directed by Meredith McDonough
Review by Eli Keel
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Eli Keel. All rights reserved.
The Humana Festival of New American Plays continues with the world premiere of Steven Dietz’s This Random World, directed by Meredith McDonough.
World succeeds on every level, with beautiful performances from each actor, incredible direction, and beautiful set, sound, and light design. It’s the sort of play you walk away from having fallen completely in love with every person on the stage, and feeling nothing but gratitude for the playwright and the director.
World focuses its action on a group of seven loosely connected people, whose paths cross and intersect—frequently without their knowledge of those intersections— as they look for meaning in their shifting lives. The Ward Family, comprised of matriarch Scottie Ward (Beth Dixon), son Tim Ward (Nate Miller), and daughter Beth Ward (Brenda Withers), provide the convergence points for an ex-girlfriend Claire (Renata Friedman), ex-boyfriend Gary (Todd Lawson), and the aging matriarch’s healthcare worker Bernie (Shirine Babb), and Bernie’s sister Rhonda (Deonna Bouye.)
The ensemble shares equal stage time. Mathematically speaking someone must have the most lines (probably Beth Dixon or Tim Ward), but there is no single focus. There are also no bad guys or good guys. The characters connect, and disconnect, and fight and get frustrated, but the audience is equally invested in all the characters.
Exploring the intersecting relationships of our random world is by no means a fresh idea. Often these kinds of play or films rest on the dramatic irony of the audience knowing how the characters connect, even though the characters themselves are unaware. 90% of the drama is the viewer wondering if the people onstage ever figure it out. While World occasionally plays with our emotions over these possible connections, each scene has real dramatic heft in and of itself. The characters are struggling, crying, and connecting with each other and it doesn’t in any way rest on the relationships that they don’t know they have. Because of this the audience is invested in every interaction.
The scenes clip along at a lightning pace. At just an hour and half with no intermission, the fast set changes, multiple locations, and relatively short scenes gave this play a cinematic feel while still offering the sort of emotional intimacy that only comes from live theatre.
There is also a tendency for the characters in World to speak Deep Truths. Those sorts of aphorisms and observations normally annoy me in a script, but in World they never feel unearned. Rather, I find myself already itchy to re-watch this play and eventually read it to comb over the philosophy.
While the moments of deep emotions and beautifully worded philosophy are what stuck with me as I walked out of the theatre, the play is also fast and funny, delivering constant comedy that comes from the characters and their foibles, including numerous instances of the laughter that comes from a place of painful self recognition.
This Random World manages the neat trick of employing my least favorite theatrical tricks and tropes but doing them all in such a beautifully honest way that they felt fresh, real, and earned.
This Random World
March 11 – April 10, 2016
Part of the 40th Humana Festival of New American Plays
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Eli Keel is a Louisville based playwright, poet, storyteller, and freelance journalist. He has been published in Word Hotel, his plays have been produced by Theatre  and Finnigan Productions, and he was invited to read his work at the 2014 Writer’s Block. He is a frequent contributor to LEO Weekly and Insider Louisville, where he has been given the (informal) title of “Chief of the Bureau of Quirk.”