Dallas — Kids today.
They want theater to happen somewhere “that doesn’t look like a theater.” They want it to be in the audience’s face, whether it’s called “immersive” or “intimate” or both. They want video that plays an integral role in the narrative. They want striking visuals. They want raw emotion.
And they want unconventional.
Pipe Dream Productions can check all that off the list with its first production, Chipping Smooth, which happened this weekend in the carriage house in the backyard of Heidi and Kevin Maher’s lovely home in Oak Cliff’s Winnetka Heights.
The intimate carriage house, filled with sofas, chairs and pillows on the floor overflowed out the doors at Friday’s performance, and apparently Thursday’s opening night was the same. They marketed it primarily via social media and built buzz with beautiful photography and an equally cinematic video preview (see above, and click the slideshow icon below to see the photos).
And the price was right: Free.
Who are the Pipe Dreamers? Mostly Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts graduates, many of whom had been involved with Junior Players and that group’s annual Shakespeare show. They’re all home for the summer from colleges around the country, or about to take off for their freshman year. (The bios mention schools like University of Minnesota, University College London, Vanderbilt, the Art Institute of Chicago, Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and Webster Conservatory.)
The idea started with Mary Ehrlicher, who played Hero in the 2013 Junior Players production of Much Ado About Nothing. When she wanted to start a company that would involve her and her friends, they came up with this show, an engaging ode to young love, with Ehrlicher playing the character “Her” and Beaven Waller as “Him.”
They also love the C-word: collaboration.
The co-directors are listed as Ehrlicher, Waller, Taylor Cleveland (he’s also the photographer and videographer), Shane McGoldrick (choreographer) and Fiona Robberson (the event’s hostess, who you might remember from Undermain Theatre’s 2011 production of Strindberg’s Easter). Ehrlicher is the primary writer, with the help of “writing consultants” McKenna Wierman, Nicholas Mayfield, Dante Flores and Chandler Clamp. There was also directorial consultation by Junior Players mavens Valerie Hauss-Smith and Anastasia Munoz.
To boot, they were given permission to use songs by Jason Silva and Samuel Lockridge, and a video performance called “When Love Arrives” featuring Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye,” recorded in Australia (see video below). Waller wrote the songs that he performs in the show.
Pipe Dream’s debut may go down as significant because of the experience more than anything else, but the show itself is worthwhile, and only an hour long.
The story chronicles the first-sight love-falling and subsequent relationship, breakup and reunion of Him and Her. Ehrlicher and Waller use the small space, sometimes leaping over audience members seated on pillows, to remind us (read: those of us older than 28) what it’s like to fall hopelessly in love for perhaps the first time. You remember—you fixate on small details like eyelashes or arm freckles, and the oft-used word “chemistry” seems to pertain to actual chemical reactions and laws of physics, where electrons, positive particles, and the power of water come into play. (The title refers to the smooth erosion, or chipping, of rock that happens from millennia of flowing water. Think Grand Canyon.)
"Chemistry is the only thing deep enough to explain this."
The show uses video in some innovative ways, such as scenes for each of them as they replay how a certain interaction with the other could or should have happened, with the video giving us different versions. We’ve all replayed such scenes in our heads.
Metaphor and poetry abounds, with lines like “even the prettiest of cages can’t compare to the freedom of the open sky” or his explanation of looking for a partner that would make sense on the wheel of complementary or contrasting colors. “I always knew I was blue so I was looking for orange,” he says, bringing colorful language to the old adage “opposites attract.” Both actors are as charming as they are dreamy.
Somehow, while it might sound overwrought, it’s never too gooey-sweet like something from a Nicholas Sparks novel. Along the way, Chipping Smooth makes references to Plato’s Symposium, the poet Roland Barthes and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise films. It also quotes liberally from Shakespeare (thank you, Junior Players), most creatively doing a switcheroo of Benedick and Beatrice’s lines in Much Ado. (They also pull from Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It and Sonnet 86.)
For anyone who has been embroiled in the kind of love that makes your skin hum, and could have uttered Benedick’s line “I protest I love thee” at some point (or at least that sentiment), then Chipping Smooth might just hit the spot.
If you’re looking for a non-traditional theater experience—and you better start getting used to more of those, as younger theatermakers arrive on the scene—there’s one more performance tonight. Remember, it’s free. Just show up.
Here’s hoping Pipe Dreams has more dreams to fulfill when they’re back in town next summer.