Carrollton — You probably remember the game 52 Pick-Up as a child, when an initiated player tossed a deck of cards in the air and then ordered the newbies to pick them up. Proper Hijinx Production’s current production of TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi’s play 52 Pick-Up, directed by Stefany Cambra, is the grown-up version.
The play opens with a familiar, “Tell me a story.” The actors then chuck a handful of cards across the stage and spend the next hour picking them up. Each card is coded with a scene from a couple’s relationship. The order the cards are picked up determines how the story unfolds.
Actors introduce each scene by showing their hand, as it were, and telling the audience the scene’s title, which include easy-to-recognize themes such as “One Year Later,” “The Nice Things,” “First Time,” “Push Me, Pull Me,” “Guess What?,” and “I Love You.”
The play, by necessity, is disjointed. In reality, it’s an anthology of 52 snapshots that still manages to fully capture the dynamics of relationships. Sometimes the scenes develop in isolation and feature only one of the two couples. Other times they work in tandem, with overlapping repeated lines and mirrored actions from both couples, highlighting the theme’s universality.
You don’t get the relationships’ big dramatic arcs. And the random order of the individual scenes all but guarantees that there won’t be much development. Instead, the audience is tasked with putting things in chronological order. That task, though, becomes all the more fun with the help of the expert cast, who are also in the process of piecing the story together.
Robin Clayton and Andrew Manning adeptly portray the heterosexual couple. She is a well-traveled polyglot who longs for a life of adventure while he considers a sweater too outré. His most exotic trip has been to Galveston. Even out of context and out of sequence, Clayton’s delivery of “Galveston” tells you all you need to know about the tensions between these two characters. The same-sex couple are convincingly portrayed by Caitlin Galloway and Madeleine Morris. Galloway’s character is guided by astrology and swoons to classical music, while Morris’ character is level-headed and bookish.
The vignettes play out within a sparse symmetrical set, performed in a dance studio in Carrollton. Benches and cubby holes provide storage for simple props: a sweater, books, vegetables, and a laptop computer. The symmetry of the set resonates with the symmetry of the script, which both begins and ends with the “Tell me a story” dialog and the tossing of cards.
Proper Hijinx’s excellent production of 52 Pick-Up dispels the misconception that same-sex relationships operate outside the same dynamics as opposite-sex couples. And how refreshing it is to see intimacy between gay characters instead of the constant handwringing about those characters’ sexuality! Each scene, whether depicted by a straight or gay couple, was relatable to the almost full house Saturday evening. The audience laughed along throughout, recognizing the comic commonalities between the two couples on stage as well as those between the play and real life.
52 Pick-Up was written by one-time Canadian couple Dawe and Bozi, who continue to have successful careers in performance and writing. This play (their only collaboration) has become a favorite with the fringe theater crowd and has won awards at the Fringe Festivals in both Toronto and Montreal.
While the script can be adapted for any number of couples and for any combination of genders, Cambra’s choices yield successful results. The show benefits from Jason Foster’s subtle lighting design. In an otherwise tightly polished production, the sound design (by Annie Coleman) could have used a little variation. The same few intro measures from Radiohead’s “House of Cards” punctuates each scene. After 52 scenes, the music becomes a bit stale.