Fort Worth — Lucky timing for Amphibian Stage Productions: at this fraught and frankly discouraging moment along the American timeline, British-born playwright Kieran Lynn’s absurd-ish Crossing the Line actually manages to make us laugh out loud about the national obsession with borders, walls and “people not born in this country”—even about the proper use of force by men with guns. It’s a short piece (just over an hour), but that’s time enough to involve us in a comically rocky romance and an international incident—with some snarky commentary on how the lives of ordinary people (like us) can be blown apart by the choices of movers and shakers we never see.
“Who’s making all these decisions? I want to know,” says one character.
“What difference would it make?”
No wonder Arthur (Justin Lemieux), sitting by a pond with his girlfriend Olivia (Kelsey Milbourn), would prefer to opt out: “I wish I was a duck.” He stares across the water (costume designer Lux Haac’s painfully perfect outdoor wear for Arthur is just right); she reads the newspaper and talks about the current unrest. Olivia wants to be “really involved” with the world; Arthur, not so much.
And that’s when Fate calls their bluff: a lone border guard called the Reiver (Matthew Minor) appears, running a line of tape down the center of the park bench, between the two lovers. The border has moved, you see. Olivia and the Reiver (in old English, reiver/reaver can be someone who “breaks things apart”) are still in their own country—but Arthur is in a different place altogether.
Just step back across, says Olivia. “Not without permission,” says the guard, excited to play a role in this sudden drama. He’s new on the job, he has a stun gun—and he’d really like to use it.
The situation escalates irrationally, of course, posing knotty governmental and romantic questions. How can a duck pond be divided? Ducks can be tracked, but fish (how sinister!) swim where they want, “underwater, where no eyes can see.” (The play does an obvious bow to David Mamet’s dry and marvelous The Duck Variations, also about a two people on a park bench.) Should Olivia cross over to Arthur, or Arthur to Olivia—and anyway, is their newly bi-national relationship too broken to save?
While Arthur’s life becomes entangled with his accidental new country, Olivia tries everything to bring him home; but at times, their bickering makes it hard to know why she bothers. Sabers rattle, planes scramble…and what difference, we wonder, can it make if one couple takes action…or just gives up?
Lemieux has a nicely deadpan delivery as the passive Arthur, and Milbourn’s hot-wired, chatty physicality bounces off him in interesting ways. Minor’s Reiver is a gentle-voiced lummox with a pocket full of melting chocolate—but also the ultimate little big man getting a taste of power, and loving it too much.
Scenic designer Seancolin Hankins’ set is dreamily forested, with flowering trees around a park bench, and a feathery willow that (literally) gives the actors some scenery to chew. Shifting dawn-to-daylight effects from lighting designer Max Marquez bring us delicately into the world of the play. Melissa Crespo directs with energetic attention: this talky, one-location play could have felt static—but Crespo keeps things lively with bits of business between characters. Minor’s sudden snuggle into Milbourn’s neck as he “restrains” her is cute and creepy: no wonder he’s keeping Arthur stuck across the border.
Crossing the Line is a clever little comedy with a surprising jolt of relevance at the heart of its absurdity. Interestingly, Amphibian asked for and received permission from playwright Lynn to change the title (temporarily) for this production, from An Incident at the Border—thinking local audiences might assume the show was about events on the Texas-Mexico line. One can’t argue, really, but because the play’s fictional two nations are unnamed—they could be anywhere in the world, from northern Europe to South America—giving the play a Texas-border vibe might have been something to see.