Walk into Five Things: A Webcomic in 3-D and you’ll immediately notice that it’s working hard to live up to its promise of mimicking a web comic; the rear screen projections (designed by Amy Overman) have “previous” arrows, and the sound effects, inner thoughts, dreams, and various other clever notions are all drawn out (by Brooke Tarnoff) on cards which are then held up and dance above the characters’ heads with whimsical aplomb. Well timed and well drawn, the effects come off humorously and add a note of contrast to the play.
Initially as the story unwrapped itself I was engaged and charmed by this little tale. The incidental music was bouncy and quirky and the dialog between The Girl (Emily Dalton) and her cat Ruby (Jillian Tully) was peppered with all my guilty pleasures – Dr. Who, Nathan Fillion, bad monster movies. And if one of these pebbles of pop culture flies over the audiences’ head, no worries … they’re tossed throughout the story like croutons and serve much the same purpose, just a little extra dash of flavor to let you understand the type of gal The Girl is.
The show is called “Five Things”, and those five things refer to the task set before Dalton’s sweet, awkward, blossoming artistic character by her Fairy Dragmother (the marvelous Cedric Jones) – who is little more than a flamboyant and doting stranger whom she meets in a bar one night. The Girl’s Fairy Dragmother invites her to do five things over a period of time which terrify her in order to challenge herself and grow.
Like so many things, “Terror” is a slippery slope. One man’s “meh” is another’s “Oh Lord NOOOOOOOO!” and with this girl, The Girl, the bar is set rather low. Simply changing out of a blah wardrobe and into a more colorful one counts as one terrifying thing; taking in a stray cat who wanders into her home and claims it as her own counts as another. I’d put this on the list of “interesting” things, possibly “difficult” but I’ll allow that to our main character it’s “terrifying”. Regardless, Fairy Dragmother (who, despite appearing dashing and lovely in a wide variety of snazzy outfits never actually appears in drag) seems pleased with each digital update sent to his smart phone and cheer leads in a way that makes me wish I had my own Fairy Dragmother in my corner. (If in the form of Mr. Jones, all the better).
The cat she takes in, Ruby, is no ordinary cat, but an anthropomorphic one who became a genius thanks to some testing done in a lab … the one from which she escaped. Thanks to those lab experiments she is sentient, talks to the audience, and easily can having long soliloquies where she rhapsodizes about things that rack focus from the plot while performing calisthenics on the furniture along with the occasional tap dance.
Think of Ruby as a female version of Calvin’s Hobbes with a Pinky and the Brain like attraction to tinkering about in the lab she’s set up behind The Girl’s stove topped with a dash of Flowers For Algernon on top. Yes, I get the whole cat-as-metaphor/omniscient-narrator/”I-will-be-your-guide” thing. I just think the OTHER part of the play … you know, the part about The Girl who had to challenge herself with her Five Things? THAT part of the play was the meat, and the cat part could easily have been reduced by half.
Emily Dalton as The Girl was entirely enjoyable to watch as she went through her transformations (regardless of where they landed on the “terror” scale) and additionally she proved quite talented as a singer and ukulele player. Scenes between her and Fairy Dragmother, or later between Dalton and The Guy (Patrick Andrew Jones) were the scenes which crackles with the most excitement, held the most promise and gave the most satisfaction. The blooming romance between The Girl and The Guy was everything that young love often is – hesitant, excitable, dreamy, goofy, immersive, confusing, and sometimes not quite fleshed out enough to deal with life-changing decisions.
“Other Girl” who is actually several other girls was played gamely by director Amanda LaPergola who brought a full range of characters to the table; most enjoyable was the REALLY EXCITED open mic host slash waitress.
Playwright Jillian Tully who plays Ruby obviously feels very strongly about the cat’s story-line (as metaphor, as pure cat-love, as something only she can explain). She not only wrote the role but embodies it here as well as in other iterations of this play and keeps all cat things front and center at all times. Therefore it’s obvious where she feels the perspective of the story lives. Even the fact that the cat has a name and The Girl (or The Guy, or The Other Girl) doesn’t points a big neon sign to the fact that this is the cat’s story, despite the fact that everything else underscores that The Girl’s story-line is the one with the most potential for heart, passion, growth and strength. And while Ruby does indeed make changes (from loner to social being, for example) she is, after all, a cat and not the one we’re identifying with.
Perhaps this is why the whole show didn’t come together for me. This is The Girl’s story. Sure, people love cats. People love the idea of wondering what their cats may be thinking. People love the idea of what it might be like if their cats could talk. But my advice is: give The Girl a name, already. And follow your own play’s advice – do something terrifying like make some cuts to the cat scenes. A little change might reap a big reward.
Five Things: A Webcomic in 3-D
Writer: Jillian Tully
A comic brought to life that asks: What if you promised to do five terrifying things in the coming year? In the spirit of Calvin and Hobbes, Five Things takes on Fairy Dragmothers, opposable thumbs, and the pursuit of happiness.
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