Melissa James Gibson’s verbose, frenetic [sic] focuses on three neighbors, their mistakes, and their friendship of convenience.
Babette is trying – unsuccessfully – to pitch a book about history-changing temper tantrums. Theo is struggling to compose a theme song for the Thrill-o-Rama rollercoaster. And Frank is stumbling over his words as he dreams of becoming a professional auctioneer.
While they’re each counting pennies and hitting the wall with their creative pursuits, they’re making mistakes in their personal lives. Drunken hookups, vanished wives, jealousies over an ex-boyfriend who’s moved on.
[sic] shows the three repeatedly spilling out of their apartments and into the hallway with their ups, downs, arguments, and flirtations, before slamming a door and retreating into their personal prisons.
It was exhilarating and a little emotionally exhausting.Watching [sic] brought back vivid memories of my early twenties in Philly. Working in the marketing and sales department of a theatre during the day, then backstage on a show at night to help pay my bills, and volunteering for a startup theatre company whenever I could squeeze in a few moments.
There was little sleep, but who needed it when you were fueled by putting order to the chaos and a couple of martinis.
Although I may not have been a full-blown trainwreck at the time, I would have qualified at least as a fender bender trying to figure out what I wanted and making many mistakes.
Looking back, was it exhausting? Yes. But was it also an incredibly fun and invaluable experience? Definitely. And many good stories resulted from that time.
Which is why I loved [sic]. It made me recall working back-to-back shows on Sundays, punctuated by a riotous weekly dinner with the rest of the crew and cast. Or having a cigarette with my roommate on our apartment building’s front stoop, hoping we’d run into our neighbor Akbar, a local artist and chef who always had something interesting to say.
Director Pandora Robertson pondered in [sic]’s playbill “Why do we end up with the friends that we have? Why do some friendships last and others fade instantly? Do we really choose our friends?”
We don’t really have that much control as the characters in [sic] demonstrate. They’re brought together because they all knew the same mutual “friend,” someone we don’t meet, but hear a lot about from Babette, Theo, and Frank.At multiple points during the show, each character uses scathing words to hurt the others. Regardless, though, they’re there together at the end to console, tease, and probably hurt again. It’s raw, poetic, and, even at it’s most ridiculous, realistic.
[sic]’s script runs at a manic pace, focused on the cacophony of the city and the at-times overly clever language of its inhabitants. I found myself having problems keeping up on occasion and missing a line here or there. However, the actors playing Babette (Rachel Lee Kolis), Theo (Ryan Lucas), and Frank (Gabriel Riazi) never waned in energy and thrust our focus from each tumultuous moment to the next.
Kolis, in particular, captured my attention and never let go. Her expressions and body language were always in sync with Babette’s shifting moods and whirlwind outbursts. Whether she was seeking a few pennies or support for her book (neither of which she got from anyone but Theo), her desperation shot straight to my heart.
The highlight of every Theater Ninja show is seeing how they use a performance space, whether it’s the atrium at the Cleveland Museum of Art or a common area between a few galleries in the 78th Street Studios.
In the same space where Theater Ninjas’ first run of Excavation had audience members wandering between multiple vignettes, set designer Val Kozlenko has built out [sic]’s intimate, messy apartments.
Even though each apartment is the size of a broom closet, it fully realizes the inhabitant’s personality and problems. I loved how each space was built at a slant, melding into the 78th Street Studios’ walls and support columns, creating a refuge where the characters could continue to torture themselves in private.
[sic] will be at the 78th Street Studios through March 15 with shows on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday at 8pm. Tickets range between $15 and $20. Purchase them at https://squareup.com/market/theater-ninjas