Dallas — It takes a special kind of endurance to write and direct your own play. In an era of instant Internet answers, two artists buck the trend with Plays of Question at Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park. The first looks at the beginning of a relationship and the second, the end of everything. If they aren’t necessarily a fresh take, at least they’re full of fresh talent.
Leading the bill is Miller Pyke’s Bed Frames, in which she stars opposite her evening’s co-creator Kasey Tackett. Told in staccato snippets, the play traces the relationship arc familiar to many modern twenty-somethings: a steamy situation leads to co-habitation, but habituation means depreciation and the next thing you know, it’s all over. The only question left is why?
Pyke has a gift for dialogue that is punchy and fun, but still believable. Miraculously avoiding the new-play death knell—overwriting—she sneaks the exposition into the nooks of the blackout-besotted opening scenes. The time in darkness, if repetitive, is useful for adding up the implications of what has just happened. For an audience used to reading between the lines of a Tweet, text or Facebook post, it’s arguably part of the fun.
There is an attempt to tack on an extra layer concerning shared relationship identity interfering with an individual’s artistic development, but it isn’t necessary. The play is more accessible (and the ending more inescapable) when the characters are more universal in their common, funny foibles.
Pyke does very well with playwright Pyke’s dialogue. It’s as if she wrote it (she did). The surprise is Tackett’s accompanying effortless performance. Actually, it’s a photo finish. These two have a chemistry that rivals Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglóva in the movie Once. Only the romance that is created in that story by the obstacles to their relationship is replaced by the complacency that results from having no barriers to love. These two are young and sexy and free and yearning for something. But what it is remains a question.
Tackett takes questioning to a whole new level in Said and Done, nuclear even. The protagonist is an atom at the end of all things. Xavier Williams plays the self-aware last bit of matter in the universe. As he wanders and wonders about what is to become of him, the other cast members are revealed to be dialectic sibling and parent pairs of Faith (April Zavala) and Science (Miller Pyke), Life (Lindsay Harris) and Death (Kasey Tackett), Mother Nature (Kayla Williams) and Father Time (Joel White). The personification of these concepts/characters and the philosophical difficulties that that presents is casually ignored in favor of puns and an inexplicable seething. It’s sort of soap opera Sartre. Or just Sartre, really.
In this case, existence precedes essence and follows it, as well. As the universe and all its contents have long since passed. Adam, the Atom, walks about observing the family dynamics in a nowhere, no-when. With everything in the past, unfortunately, the characters have little end to pursue. This leaves the audience responsible for their own investment, which can be challenging when it’s unclear whom to root for. The play is more of a rumination than a revelation.
The great tension between Life and Death is reduced to sibling bickering over personality differences. Faith and Science have a more nuanced relationship, but return to the predictable impasse between the kindness of hope and the cruelty of exacting logic. The most original offering is a Mother Nature who ends up ineptly suicidal.
It’s a satisfying evening of theater, nevertheless, because Tackett and Pyke make such a great pair onstage. Their plays may differ extremely in location and character, but they are united by a common yearning for meaning. Even if the questions outgun the answers, there’s plenty to talk about.
Tackett and Pyke’s Plays of Question make quite a pair.