In Designing for Live Performance this week, we read “The Completeness” by Itamar Moses and were tasked with answering the questions in Elinor Fuch’s “Visit to a Small Planet: Some Questions to Ask a Play.” Here goes…
1. THE WORLD OF THE PLAY: FIRST THINGS FIRST.
It’s an interior space, built and relatively sparse. It feels contained, like a scene from a memory. It’s relatively dark and not particularly colorful. It feels a bit subdued and far off.
Time feels still in the sense that the world is so focused the changing of time outside of the play is inconsequential. Although the play takes place over a few weeks, it feels as though it could be a day-–in the sense that when you are working really hard, days seem to melt into one long day and you stop differentiating them. This may be in part because they are in graduate school and time often becomes warped in periods of hyper focus.
It’s fall outside with a completely average temperature–not too hot, not too cold, just comfortable. But we spend almost all of the time inside, which is climate controlled. A steady, artificial, comfortable 68 degrees.
The planet is serious, cerebral. It is tense. The set is sparse, with simple set design and lighting. The lighting is directed, leaving the periphery of the scene often too dark to see. So the scene fades into darkness, there are no stark lines. The lighting is white, blue and black.
There are hidden spaces of sheer panic. Frenzied, hot red, uncomfortable places that the characters slip into between scenes. This is where they are consumed with their deepest fears of aloneness, or “incompleteness.”
There is a lot of uncomfortable silence, this adds to the tension of the world. The occasional sounds, aside from the actors speaking, are mechanical–computers buzzing, people typing, lights coming on or off.
II. THE SOCIAL WORLD OF THE PLAY: A CLOSER LOOK
Despite sometimes being set in public, the world is private, even intimate. There is a social hierarchy based on the higher education caste system–undergrad, grad, resident, adjunct, faculty, etc.
The characters arrange themselves in both pairs and interlocking triangles. In each triangle, one person is being emotionally hurt by the other two.
The characters are cautious. They are intelligent and introspective. They are reserved, but making attempts to break through the barriers of their relationships to others. They are contemporary graduate students, dressed in jeans and t-shirts and sweatshirts, sneakers or simple flat shoes. No heels, no makeup, no dress clothes.
All of the interaction is infused with passion. The passion that they bring to their work and research elevates the passion that they bring to the interactions they have with the other characters. The dialogue is infused with restlessness, hope and expectation.
III. WHAT CHANGES?
The scenes, although they share the same tone, change from school/public to home/private. Each scene only shows one pair at a time, and the pairs change. The feelings of the scene switch between hope and hurt/resentment.
The first image offers a seedling of hope and potential in a possible relationship. It is something new–thus exciting–but there’s no way to know if it is lasting. The last is first an image of despair, but then turns to an image of a relationship that has a chance at longevity. The center image is one that tests the relationship–a chance for the relationship to fail.
It was essential for the central characters to have their feelings for each other tested for them to understand their true feelings for each other. The play begins and ends in the same place. It passes through places of intimacy, education, rejection, hope and despair along the way.
Throughout the play, it flips from day to night. A few weeks pass in the duration of the play.
The language and tone remain tentative. The mood is what changes most drastically, from hope to despair throughout. In about the middle of the play, the clothes come entirely off. Otherwise, the clothes stay consistent throughout.
Self understanding is what changes throughout, in that the main characters develop a better understanding of what they want from the first to the last scene.
Uncertainty is a constant throughout.
This is a world where the characters are comfortable reaching out for what they want, even if they fail in the process. It is the same world, which is one of hope/potential, which allows for evolution. As a result the main characters are able to be more honest with themselves, and therefore more honest with others, throughout the play.
IV. DON’T FORGET YOURSELF
This world asks me to be empathetic. The experiences of the characters are relatable. They invite me to contemplate my own quest for partnership and completeness through my relationships with others and my work.
V. THEATRICAL MIRRORS
In a way, the world connects to all love stories in that it starts with hope and newness, passes through a chance for failure, and ends with more understanding and hope for the future. The ending is still tentative, though, so in this way it is distinct from the dramatic worlds of many other love stories.
VI. THE CHARACTER FITS THE PATTERN
This is a safe, stark, focused world where characters are physically and intellectually safe, and therefore comfortable taking great personal risks. In this world they make valiant attempts at answering unanswerable questions about their existence and make incremental, yet significant progress.