Wednesday, July 01, 2009

...and the fear cracked open.

According to that old chestnut, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." According the wisdom found in Beckett's old peanut, "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." According to Will Wolf and Terri Garrett, a pair of theatrical nuts, it's "Try everything," or at least it seems that way in their charmingly lo-fi, potentially autobiographical love story, ...and the fear cracked open. Terri's neuroses and Will's depression are represented not just seriocomically, but through home movies, animation, puppets, mask-work, fantasy, symmetry, metadrama, and even a musical number. When the quality fails to keep up with the originality, confusion ensues, but its hard to seriously criticize too much of a good thing.

In the first of many conventions, Will and Terri are played by Gavin Starr Kendall and Becky Byers (which fortunately gives the real Garrett enough distance to serve as director). In the second, we catch them in the middle of a relationship-ending fight, only to quickly flash back to the moment they first met: a cafe in Minnesota, 1997. Here in these happiest times, the conventions start to fade (though there are a few "falling in love" montages), for Will and Terri are genuine romantics, and their scenes are full of cute, little, fully-formed nuances, the sort that can't be made up. (For instance, Terri refuses to jinx their relationship by saying "I love you," so the two of them coo "Mint chocolate-chip ice cream"--a true sweet nothing--at each other.)

Of course, the play's got "cracking" to do, so before long, Terri's mother pops by for a visit. In a clever bit of staging, not only is Terri's mother grotesqued into puppet form (thanks to Kate Brehm's design), but she's bunrakued about by the real Wolf, which adds a level of depth to every ounce of the loathing she expresses toward Will. It's clear where Terri got her neuroses from . . . and later, thanks to some animated projections, we'll get to see what those neuroses are, too. The elements of fantasy that enter into these scenes are great, for they augment our perception without leaving us to question their reality.

However, ...and the fear cracked open dips too far into fantasy when Terri announces that she's pregnant. The play cheats a bit by replaying Will's initial reaction, then cheats further by staging a miscarriage in the middle of a dream sequence . . . in which the actors are also wearing masks. If the show is autobiographical, then the need for such authorial distance is at least understandable, but it's the one moment where the show cracks too far.

Luckily, Will and Terri don't stay in this style, either, and the play falls into place as it circles back (with perfect symmetry) to that opening fight. Then, in the show-making twist, it goes on. Will's crippling depression, cleverly physicalized by an Oogie-Boogie-looking character, and Terri's emotions threaten to break the fourth wall: can love conquer the fear bag? There are already enough spoilers in this review as it is, so let's leave it at this: ...and the fear cracked open is at least honest enough and good enough to conquer its own rough patches.

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