Not Everything It Could Have Been
KC Fringe Festival
Sitting in the theater and looking at the stage, it's clear that "CRISSCROSS" is going to be all about the actors and the writing: there are three sitables - 2 chairs, on either side of the stage…and a bench, to be used center stage throughout the production. Overhead hangs a monitor on which we can read "CRISSCROSS." Again, it's clear that this production is going to focus on the script and the acting - and it does -- fairly successfully.
It starts with a dimming of the lights as the credits start rolling. And keep rolling. And yet still, keep rolling. ….The credits are too lengthy, and the actor ready to go at the beginning is left standing out there for far too long. The monitor is used throughout the production - introducing each scene while the actors get set. And this proves to be a nice device for giving context and an expectation of the scene ahead. Sometimes, the name of the scene brings about laughter all by itself. The scene-lighting and fades are mood-appropriate and done with integrity, and the costumes were minimal and as non-descript as they needed to be.
Mark Katzman's play consists of several short scenes, each 5 minutes or less, which pull two actors at a time into a scene while the third actor sits and watches the action in one of the chairs. It's easy to assume that, given its description, this play would be boring. That assumption would be incorrect. In the worst terms, the play kept its audience's attention on July 21st because the writing was so ambiguous that it took full attention to figure out what the actors were talking about - and even then, viewers didn't have a chance of being certain. This can be fun for some people and extremely annoying to others, but it's not Fringe if it's not a risk. In the best terms, this play kept its audience's attention because the acting was just good enough with only a few wonderful moments.
The actors, Sarah Pinzl, Sam Cordes, and Kyle Dyck, played their scenes with integrity and a yearning to listen. Whether that happened all the time is debatable. In some moments, actors couldn't keep their paws from reaching into their dirty bag o' tricks, but ultimately, what was played was appropriate. There lacked a real and honest build in some climactic moments; that being said, there was the illusion of a climax, but there was something non-believable about the actors portraying it, and that's the reason for the small mention of the bag o' tricks. The true effort to get the other character to stay, to leave, to hurt, to shut up, or to talk was lacking sometimes - almost like the actor was afraid of change or of really affecting the other actor. Sarah Pinzl was the person most guilty of this on July 21st (although Dyck and Cordes had their moments as well). In a play where there's no set, no costumes, and no props, every word and sentence you speak has to be filled with real life and breath - without a pretense for making the scene look or feel a certain way to the audience. In this respect, the audience has to be completely incidental. And sometimes, what was being played was being played that way for the audience -- not the other actors onstage. That's out of the way, so now a compliment can be paid to the actors; it's not easy to keep an audience engaged the way they did. And the actors did that for most of the scenes. The last scene, with all three actors, was problematic, though. The actors completely lost their audience, but that was more due to the frustration from the actors concluding the play when the audience STILL had no idea what was going on.
A little mention about the actors sitting and watching on the sides of the stage, though, has to be included; why? If the convention of having the cast never go off-stage, but instead, prepare themselves for their scene in view of the audience is what the director was going for, then why have the actors still be their characters and react to the scene/moment that they were never there for? Not that the audience would have understood the reason for actors to stay visible, but at least that would have been consistent with a convention. The way this production did it was just confusing -- unless the reason was this: every scene was in the imagination of the character watching, and it was, indeed, not really happening. This assumption is a stretch, though, and it requires too much work for an audience that is presented with such an ambiguous script. It was a confusing choice by the director.
Though this play cannot stand beside some other great works here at the Fringe this year, it is still worth seeing for curiosity's sake alone. And the acting by Dyck, Cordes, and Pinzl is good enough to present the script in an entertaining way. So drop by the MET, hopefully earlier in the night, though, because concentration and critical thought is needed for this one.