Kelly Copper has edited one hundred hours of conversations recorded by (and from) the Nature Theater of Oklahoma down to a three-and-a-half "epic of the everyday, and Pavol Liska, the director, has shaped this oral work into a strange, thrilling blend of theater (not just melodrama, but hokey dinner-theater melodrama) that tackles life with a series of absurd accents, ridiculous costumes, shared gesticulations (pulled from, among other places, a book on magicians and a video of disco moves), and the company's frenetic dance stylings. The resulting work, No Dice, defies expectations, but does so by continually flaunting the "conventions" that it is breaking: in one of the few segments that is repeated in Act II, we're reminded (via 2001: A Space Odyssey) that storytelling is supposed to have a story; at another point, the characters discuss the "friendly kind of mediocrity" of dinner-theater actors, who "try so hard you have to love them."
I considered writing this review as a conversation between me and me2, so as to give you a firsthand experience of the way No Dice makes use of incomplete thoughts, the standard interruptions like "like" and "uh-huh," (in fact, there's even a great scene where one character critiques another character's brusque usage of "uh-huh").
ME: So I get there, and I'm looking around at this space -- like, this empty space, this -- what used to be, like, some sort of an indoor playground.As you can see, I didn't entirely decide against it, but the language itself is secondary to the presentation, which falls somewhere between the terse theatricality (scripted through improvisation and free play) of The Debate Society and the collage work of Chuck Mee, who is known to pull just as freely from Greek classics as he is from modern blogs. Where No Dice stands out is in the lack of storytelling, the way in which Anne Gridley, Robert M. Johanson, and Zachary Oberzan immerse themselves in the rhythm of life -- the "cosmic murmuring" of edited recordings, pumped into their ears via iPod buds and enthusiastically recited (note perfect) rather than memorized.
ME: And I think -- I'm thinking -- you couldn't, you couldn't possibly pick, like, a better spot to do a play like this.
ME2: Ha-ha. Yeah. Wait, play like this?
ME: Yeah. Some sort of freewheeling, sort of natural mediation on life that, like is distorting yet inherently honest in the way it, how it reflects, right? How we -- who we are.
ME2: (long pause) I liked the signs there. Did you? Like them? (pause) Did you see them?
ME: Sure. "No adults are allowed in the Bouncy Castle."
ME2: "Big Person's bathroom."
ME: (explosive laughter) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, yeah, such tiny toilets.
ME2: Yeah, such small toilets.
ME: Were we ever that small? I mean, can you think back to a time in your life -- what's the earliest -- god, how time flies.
No Dice succeeds because this lack of storytelling. It's incredibly focused, don't misunderstand, but on the other things that build character: tales of guilt about working for your friend, and the anxiety about where that may lead; long conversations about taping a television series in Russia and the attempts to convince oneself that the experience justified doing it for free; stories about working as a temp for Wal*Mart, filling out TARs (Time Adjustment Reports), taking long smoke breaks, and stealing the free sodas. Then, to make it relevant to anyone (and far more endearingly comic), the actors play these parts as broadly and hammy as possible: Zack slips in and out of an Irish accent for emphasis and constantly blows bits of fake mustache out of his face; Robert parades around as a half-Jamaican pirate with Hassidic curls hanging off the ears of his wide-rim glasses; Anne (wearing a red wig that creeps farther and farther down her head) speaks in a cheesy French accent and perpetually winces or laughs nervously as if what's being said might get her shot. They're also joined by a wide-eyed Thomas Hummel (whose hidden talent for beat-boxing brings the a surge of energy to the show) and mysterious Kristin Worrall, both of whom spend their time adding a quiet underscore of facial expressions to the dialogs.
After the first hour, the accents start to fade, and the company -- now that it has your attention -- gets more personal with their work, coming right up to the audience to share stories about drinking problems or food (specifically pudding) addictions. The physical tics now seem normal, and the characters seem no different from the actors literally channeling them, especially when the conversation turns to No Dice's structure (once an 11-hour play), marketing (the "I'm a Sexy Robot" dance certainly got me to buy M&Ms), and performance (dinner-theater).
Obviously, No Dice isn't for everyone: those not involved in the arts may miss the self-loathing jokes, and those who are might not want such a broad mirror reflected so brightly back in their face. And but so plus then it's also almost four hours long, like August: Osage County, but without such immediate drama. My advice is to take SoHo Rep up on their generous prices and watch the first 100 minute act; it's an exhilarating chance to see a company trying to find a way to tackle that cosmic, universal sound.