The Thing About Dan, which ran last month, was the first play mounted by Slightly Altered States Theater Company, written and directed by Sari Caine Glickstein, created in collaboration with actor Michael Hurst (Paul) and improviser Louis Kornfeld ( Zip).
The production was very warmly received and many of the nights the cast was playing to sold-out houses. Talking with Sari Caine Glickstein before the show she said, “We want to show a reality that’s a little to the left — to show that everyone’s particular reality is questionable.”
The Thing About Dan is a very good first show to highlight Slightly Altered Productions mission and niche, in that it is all about us asking ourselves “What is really real in this play?” and more than that, what is truly real in our beliefs, and in our interactions with others? Though subtle at times, it is nevertheless very clever and well-intentioned in the final calculation. Sari’s vision brought to life with the help of the rest of the newly formed company has helped Slightly Altered Productions receive 501c3 status quickly and they have an exciting lineup of plays in the pipeline for the rest of the year.
The Thing About Dan was a very interesting play in that the two characters are quirky and amusing to watch. They give us some insightful ideas to think about, but their Swiss cheesed personalities make it difficult to figure out what is really happening versus what they believe is happening. The main theme of the play is – What do you do when you life suddenly “falls apart”? You rely on your friends to help you find meaning. But what if one of them helps you find out how little meaning your life might actually have?
The play starts with two old friends waiting for Dan. This is to be a special weekend of roasting a pig together while watching football – real guy time. But what’s keeping Dan? We start to see the particular quirks that bind Zip and Paul to each other and alienate them from their wives.
Zip is quirky and almost insane in an eclectic yet friendly way. He’s sincere and loyal to a fault, just passing through life. This makes it so that the things which are important to most people – like intimacy and normal social interaction – are left by the wayside as he focuses instead on his over-elaborate thoughts.
Paul by contrast seems remarkably normal until he starts bringing up his news about Dan. Apparently Dan has been sleeping with both of their wives for the better part of a year and apparently these wives are leaving (or may have already left) their husbands for Dan on this very day of the big pig roast. One note to each husband is offered as proof, and this prompts both men to conclude that the logical thing to do now is to wait in the empty house, both armed and ready to take out Dan once he arrives … if he arrives?
In the end we have two notes that seem to tie the unreal to their victims like some sort like of Waiting For Godot except instead of waiting for meaning to come to them, they are trapped by their meanings, their roles, their abilities to achieve what doesn’t need to be done.
The Thing About Dan poses an existential quandary, one in which Dan really doesn’t actually need to exist at all. His friends could decide to blame him for their issues or they could choose to please him. Who Dan is and what he does is actually besides the point.
We can see a lot of ourselves in the two characters we see on stage both from who they are as well as from the mirror of who they are. What this play illustrates so specifically is that if two people aren’t talking about the same thing there’s no real meaning between them. Do you really have a problem if no one sees it? Can you make a problem not a problem if you deny your own need to change so much? Does it make sense to blame everything on someone else?
Dan could be whatever cypher we decide to place on him. It’s an interesting play that makes you think hard about how well you might know anyone (even yourself) because the perceptional filter is skewed just enough to make us want to figure out what is wrong or right about their plight.
Before the play began a live musician (Roosevelt Dime but others played on different nights) played the blues. He sticks around in the corners of this drama – an observer who makes the story (a story where no one is sure of what is actually happening) True. Dime did a great job imparting meaning to the audience with various ambient strums and picks on the guitar which tell about the characters’ internal workings more than their words did.
Effective sound and lighting design (sound by Gary Ferrar and lighting by Derek Wright) created realistic tones of weather which helped the audience to perceive the environment Zip and Paul find themselves in. Seeing the actors react at one loud crash or the wind or other noises makes us truly feel the isolation they feel both externally and internally. The picture is rounded out by the great set design of Willie Groom, depicting an ideal bachelor pad. It included a variety of strategy games like Risk and Settlers of Catan and other diversions we can tell the guys have spent many hours puzzling out together in the many years of their friendship both before and after meeting Dan.
If this play is remounted I urge you to go and see it, in order to see a new thing about yourself as Paul and Zip try to figure out The Thing About Dan in this punchy story about the hidden recesses of our friends.