It’s every actor's nightmare. They're on stage. It is opening night. It's a U.S. premiere. The audience is filled with the theater's supporters, friends and colleagues, officials from the theater community and the embassy of the author's country as well as the press. There's a scene about five minutes into the play when the lights are supposed to go off and, after you deliver a couple of lines, come back on. The lights don't come on — the actor is there in total darkness delivering lines and the co-star is somewhere up on the stage, but the two actors can't find each other in the dark.
This scenario actually happened to Marcus Kyd and Toni Rae Brotons on stage at MetroStage for Sunday's opening of a new two-person play by Canadian writer Sean
Reycraft. He was also in the audience for the special occasion when the theater plunged into darkness. Stage manager Ariane Chapman took quick action, turning on the theater's work lights and stepping forward to announce that, due to technical difficulties, they would have to proceed with the show without the benefit of the theatrical lighting designed for the show.
At least lighting designer Colin K. Bills wasn't in the audience to see the show continue without his contribution. His lighting design had seemed to give depth and texture to Tracie Duncan's simple set for the first five minutes of the one-hour-and-five-minute, one-act show.
In the ultimate "the show must go on" tradition, Kyd and Brotons took a collective deep breath and moved right along with this dialogue partnership show, as if such distractions were of little or no importance.
It may have helped that, in their roles, they were supposed to be addressing the audience directly. It allowed the transition to be made to this newer, simpler presentation without too jarring a departure from their characters. It also allowed the audience to feel a touch of participatory pride as they, too, made the transition with hardly a murmur.
The two performers and the audience then proceeded on a journey through the story that had fascinated the author in the first place and inspired him to write the play. It is a tale that grew out of a tabloid story of a couple whose wedding day was marred by tragedy. While the details of that tragedy emerge slowly in Reycraft's play, what the author really is exploring is the manner in which the couple coped with the impact of the tragedy.
THE PLAY IS SET on the couple's first wedding anniversary. They have gathered friends for a celebration. In thanking their guests for sharing this second special occasion with them, the story of the tragedy emerges in dribs and drabs. The play's opening line — "They all died. They're all dead. Thanks for coming." — begins to make some sense.
Kyd plays the husband — a shy, introverted high-school librarian in the small town in which the play is set. He's not particularly introspective or intellectual — "I'm more an order and file kind of guy" — but he's clearly protective of his bride and still somewhat astonished at his good fortune in finding her as a mate.
Brotons provides a chipper surface covering a shattered self-confidence in the role of the wife, an English teacher at the same high school, who can't quite understand how a librarian doesn't actually read the books he files. She sees more of the quirky details of life, but each detail leads her mind right back to the tragedy she fears will define her life.
Together, Kyd and Brotons establish a chemistry that makes it easy to believe that these two young people have indeed bonded as a couple through courtship, engagement, wedding, and a full year together as man and wife. They share touches, nod or shake their heads to the thoughts of the other, and complete each other's sentences. Her hand on his knee as they sit to explain a point, or his on her waist as they stand to face their friends, their past and their future make them a couple, not just two individuals.
This gives the early segments of the show (blackout and interruption notwithstanding) the feel of a "charm show" with just a hint of the darker side of the story intruding from time to time. References to "86 caskets" or "a mountain of responsibility/an Everest of guilt" soon transform it into a mystery, not so much a "whodunit?" as a "what happened here?"
Finally resolving with further talk of the 14 (soon to be 15) houses they have inherited, they admit that what they need now are new friends, but the prospect for any semblance of a normal future is beclouded with the final phrase "death is what we are now."