4 Cents Review – When 2 reviewers each give their 2 cents.
Today Diánna Martin and Stephen Tortora-Lee give their 4 Cents about Almost Exactly Like Us which is playing at The Workshop Theater.
Do you ever have one of those days where it seems like everything is melting down into an abyss of doom, and you just wish you could make a little tweak here and there in reality so that everything could go your way?
Almost Exactly Like Us (written by Alan M. Berks and directed by Jesse Edward Rosbrow) is a thoughtful lively drama about what freedom really is, and explores how our intentions and our perceptions of the world subtly change as we, in turn, subtly change the world around us.
There are two acts to this play – The first, in which we are introduced to the characters and given bits of their history, and the second act which shifts us to another world that has been radically altered by one minor change. In the original reality (Act One) a bomb went off 2 years prior to the beginning of the narrative. The bomb, set off on a college campus, killed the wife of a professor, Michael (Timothy Fannon) who creates a number of theories to try to find someway for his life to make sense after this experience. Right now, all they can pin this on is terrorism. Two years later, Michael goes to an unspecified foreign country and happens upon a young ESL teacher, Zoe, (Anna O’Donoghue) and together they forge a tenuous, odd, quirky relationship and find companionship – both strangers in a strange land. Also taking the journey with them is Anders (Seth Austin) the brother of Michael’s deceased wife and now an evangelical revolutionary, bent on changing the world through “Potterism”, a unique take on the conventional, more recognizable tenets of Christianity.
Paranoia abounds in this land (and in this reality), which sets the characters on particular paths. By then end of Act One, in an odd twist, Zoe makes decisions which alienate her from Michael and as the act closes we’re shown a brief glimps of a new reality – what if Michael’s wife, Helen (Julie Fitzpatrick) had never been killed in the bombing?
The importance of the entire second act is pretty much how certain themes are now mirrored, switched, jumbled into a new reality, or completely non-existent. Yet it still has many similar resonances of the other themes, now wearing different masks – for instance the same ideas but now spoken by different characters. By switching roles the characters find new paths for their destinies.
Almost Exactly Like Us
Stephen: So looking at this play it seemed like there were a couple of main themes, or questions it was trying to look at.
1. If our environment was different, how would our actions and perceptions be different? 2. How much of a difference would there be in our interactions with the same people if our worlds were different?
Diánna: Correct – it’s dealing with the very basics of consideration in any question of multiple realities/universes.
Stephen: Perhaps the story is all the same, no matter what our world is like around us, but maybe our position within it (our role and what we are supposed to do in this world, our destiny) may be different depending. Key themes, however, and phrases, and activities echo through out in a diversity of ways.
Diánna: Take for example, in another alternate reality/universe I’m an investment broker and I’m eating dinner right now … or any other bizarre number of possibilities – one’s roles then changes the number of forks in the road that there are at each turn.
I applaud the effort of a company/playwright/director for putting together a show that includes something as yummy (for I love these kinds of elements, parallel universes, etc) in a show.
Stephen: Yeah. it is definitely a yummy concept, that I think works well in this play.
Diánna: Yet I also feel that because it is not something that the average theatre goer is used to (unless everyone in the audience watches LOST) that the playwright and director need to be careful how it’s done otherwise you end up with a bunch of confused people. I was confused because I was not aware of the multiverse thing going on, initially, until we talked about it during intermission. Yet even if I had been, it was introduced so late into the show that it became an afterthought, it seemed.
Stephen: There might have been some self-selecting of the audience by having the short teasers for the show be enigmatic yet intriguing. Almost like it’s a primer of alternative reality for newbies in some ways. By having no preamble the audience was able to be as disoriented as the characters were.
Diánna: Then again, that could just be me … you got it right away – you got the alternate reality thing. But in terms of pure pacing and the script itself, they really didn’t get on the multiverse bandwagon until the last scene of Act One, and a few clues could have been planted earlier while still packing the same punch.
Stephen: I feel like, in this play, unless you read the blurb beforehand you really won’t get the play, and that’s usually not the case. “If your world were different, would you be different, too? Almost Exactly Like Us shows us four people in different realities, from a totalitarian regime to an evangelical college and a post-apocalyptic war zone, and examines how the world around us shapes who we are and who we will become.”
Diánna: When you combine multiple realities with confusing scenarios that make no sense because of the script/direction/actors behavior….then it blows the audience’s mind and we can’t buy it.
I mean, I LOVED the opening scene. I thought that Timothy Fannon (Michael) was amazing throughout the entire play. He was a joy to watch on stage because everything was believable and he was so engaging – and that was my favorite scene of Anna O’Donoghue’s (Zoe) as well – the first scene. I just thought it was a fun cat and mouse …
I was torn between moments of enjoying the acting and being annoyed that I had NO idea what the hell was going on.
Stephen: Perhaps the reason that the play didn’t shift our perception earlier on was because the playwright wanted only extreme emotional trauma to be the key that would unlock the door between worlds.
Diánna: That’s another thing – the interesting thought that Zoe was the only one who seemed to recognize the realities …who had documentation? I literally was thinking “Oh, he got that from the episode of LOST – The Constant, right?” It just seemed like they took interesting aspects of LOST, Hurt Locker, and The Road…and for some reason the shifts were happening faster and faster.
I personally would have liked some more time in the final world … or else shifting back to other worlds briefly.
Going back to what I was saying earlier – I wish they had done that other times – in all the realities, so that way we could appreciate the realities…the true meaning of Multiverse and the infinite number of possibilities even as we focus on just these three presented in the play … because it seemed forced for the second act.
I also have to mention with the acting, I enjoyed it very much we got to see Sean Austin and Julie Fitzpatrick in other “kinds of roles” because that’s what they were; when they were in an alternate reality they were in an alternate role, as actors as well as characters.
The thing is, honestly – the only thing that really interested me in the first act was Fannon’s character (Michael). It was explored with so many levels and layers – the actor did a tremendous job. What made it (I think) an NYITF Award-winning performance was his incredible diverseness between Acts One and Two – again, a testament to the multiverse. Interesting, though…his anger/loss…were there in both – same as all of the actors – they were all great, but I had issues with the character of Zoe (Anne O’Donoghue) … it’s a tough character and I think she pulled it off sometimes.
I’ve seen her work before, and she’s very talented, but I saw her doing the exact same thing she did in another show – when she was being the petulant young college coed. However when she was sweet and vulnerable she was interesting … I wish we could have seen more of that.
Ultimately I walked out of the theatre glad to have seen this show, but not thrilled with it. I think it has holes in the script that the audience can fall though, no matter how many sci-fi novels they’ve read.
I also feel the director needed to pull more colors from some of the actors in their scenes – or the actors needed to bring them.
Stephen: It was as if he was fighting the same need to have things be understood, known, manageable. But the circumstances dictated whether he enjoyed freedom or lack of freedom more in the second act.
Diánna: Overall, Almost Exactly Like Us is indeed a commentary on how we can be a product of our environment, or at least how we can react and become more of what we are inside … or fight those genes.
Stephen: All and all I think it was a good play and would really enjoy it with a bit more rework on the points we’ve been talking about. I think it is pretty fresh way of peeking through the looking glass of what would happen in terms of this alternative or another.
Diánna: It was a good concept of a play, and had some good moments.
Stephen: I think the playwright might have been more of the type to want to have the audience be solving the play of what is happening, but since he had powerful points it would be perhaps have been better if he had made them a little less subtle in the play so it was broader for the audience to grasp.
Diánna: It just needed a torch to light the way for the audience … This is not a play to have to figure stuff out…like a puzzle…its a play to sit back and learn the meaning.
I saw some moments when I think that the actors could have added more dimension to their characters (Zoe and Anders in particular) but I felt overall everyone did a good job. There was a lot of talent on the stage. I still feel like Fannon carried the show – and it was the first time I’ve seen his work, I think. I look forward to seeing more of it.
Overall, since Off-Off Broadway is really a place to get people to see theatre that is not necessarily so mainstream, this kind of production and script are perfect for it. That said, I’d like to see this or something like it rewritten and worked so the average person who enjoys this can appreciate it even on Broadway. Although I had problems with the play, I am very glad it was attempted, and I think that more efforts in this direction of plot/and alternate reality should be done in plays. I love it.
Stephen: That’s a great point. Love it or not, Almost Exactly Like Us is a play that will have you thinking and debating, and that’s exactly what Off-Off-Broadway is all about. I heartily recommend this play to anyone who truly wants to explore in wonderful detail some possible answers to the question, “What if…?”
~~~Almost Exactly Like Us Final Performances: Saturday May 1st, 2010 – 3:00 PM & 8:00 PM
Tickets are $12. WorkShop Theater (312 West 36th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenues, 4th Floor) ($8/ticket group rate, for groups of 8 of more. For inquiries, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
To order tickets call 212.352.3101 or go to TheaterMania.com