Beth Tantanella in This Is Not The Play.
Photo courtesy of The Bard’s Town
This Is Not The Play
By Chisa Hutchinson
Directed by Jake Beamer
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
If one goal of art is to cause us to question our biases, Chisa Hutchinson’s play This Is Not The Play accomplishes this in such a powerful manner, it must be counted a success.
The beginning is an abrupt burst of light into an abstract space, garishly illuminating a lone figure – a young White Woman (identified as such in the program) suddenly exposed (Beth Tantanella). She is a character being addressed by her creator, an unseen playwright represented by a booming female voice (Paula O. Lockhart). We witness the molding, through trial and error, of a nascent character christened as ‘Indigo’. Then the playwright drops in White Woman 2 (Mandi Elkins Hutchins) as a potential love interest, which sparks a hostile reaction in both White Women that is the first leading indication that these ‘fictional’ creations may be sentient beings with desires beyond their creator’s intention.
Eventually a Man appears (Matthew McMillan), claiming to be the writer’s agent, tasked with killing off one or both of the characters to help the play along. Hutchinson enters Pirandello territory with confidence, navigating her absurdist premise with great comic assurance, and the intellectual facility is matched by a sure-footed entertainment value.
But the play has more on its mind, and the second act hones in on themes of racism and identity that are provocative and insightful as to how complex and personal the seeds of hatred and bigotry can be. The two women make assumptions about the playwright’s race based on a disembodied voice, and Hutchinson has fun exploring why, but has the audience not made the same assumption? Further examinations about empathy and identification across racial lines make for a heady mix of ideas that will make you reconsider your own perspective on such questions, however conservative or liberal you think you are.
Beth Tantanella and Mandi Elkins Hutchins are cast for ultimate contrast: Tantanella short, curvy, bubbly, Elkins tall, angular, questioning. Both are outstanding, but the script demands more from Hutchins, and she invests her character with furious rage born of guilt and deeper memories that emerge once her mother arrives, played with just the right self-righteous tone by Amy Steiger.
Matthew McMillan finds a suitably glib, smarmy tone for his agent, and Paula O. Lockhart discovers a perfect balance in the Playwright, walking the fine line between embodying the stereotype required to fuel the racial themes, and finding that woman’s own core of integrity. All of the cast display sharp timing, and not one laugh in the funny, funny script is missed.
The minimalist setting births the characters into a vacuum, so that they instantly force impact through gesture and attitude alone. Eventually context is established through language, but it is fascinating to watch a play invented before our very eyes; the foundational building blocks and then the more nuanced and detailed threads applied so that the postmodern artifice gives way to something more tangible.
Part of the point may be to pose the question, is drama so artificial as to fall apart under such forensic examination? But This Is Not The Play connects with the audience; whether because of or in spite of of such deconstructionist tendencies I can’t be certain, but in either case, there is no question that it works beautifully.
This Is Not The Play
June 9-12, 16-19, 2016 (7:30 PM)
Advance Tickets $16 ($12 for students and $14 for 65+ seniors)
At the door: $18/16/14
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on ARTxFM/WXOX-LP, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.