Theatre Gigante closed-out its season with a beautiful, little one-hour, one-evening show last night at St. John’s on the Lake. A spacious room on the ground floor of the retirement community served as a stage for four as the group presented an exceedingly accessible presentation. Writer/performers Isabelle Kralj and Mark Anderson were joined by the Chicago-based singer/songwriter team of Diane Christiansen and Steve Dawson in a show they called Will We Ever Get There?
The stage is kind of a demanding place. People who are dedicated to hanging out onstage have a tendency to spend a lot of time with each other. People who spend a lot of time together have a tendency to fall in love. Will We Ever Get There? Featured a couple of couples doing material drawn from lives spent together. Kralj and Anderson’s conversational bits alternated with songs sung by Christiansen with Dawson on guitar. Witty linguistic bits wove their way around a casually tender folk.
Will We Ever Get There? is a very clever kind of casual. The four onstage made the mood feel totally natural even though...y’know...they were four people onstage with amplification and everyone watching them. The cleverness about this lies in the natural feel of it all. Whenever a couple of actors play people who have known each other forever, we as an audience know that it’s fake. As social creatures, we’re alarmingly aware of the subtle cues between two people who genuinely HAVE been together forever. Even the best actors can’t totally fake those cues. Familiarity rests in an ineffable constellation of little cues that are difficult to define. Familiarity is tricky onstage. As audience, we notice its absence and let it pass in the interest of engaging in a show. The charm in Will We Ever Get There? lies in watching a couple of people who have genuinely spent a life together being together onstage. It feels like a special kind of perfect to watch Kralj and Anderson together playing playful echoes of themselves onstage.
Whether they’re talking about Chekhov or lost in a car or just gazing at a Warhol, Kralj and Anderson have a kind of graceful stillness about their conversations onstage. Words and phrases are encouraged into multiple meanings by warm silences. They do so much together onstage over the course of a season with Gigante, it’s nice to see them being themselves at the end of it all before the long trek through summer before the next Gigante show. It’s been performed before. It’ll doubtlessly be performed again. Part of the extreme cleverness of Will We Ever Get There? is its adaptability. It could fit itself into and around a variety of different formats. Here it shared space with some rather charismatic folk music.
An old guitarist friend of mine made a distinction between musicians and bards. Musicians play the music they may or may not have written. They could be rich and famous or alone and unknown. Bards, though...bards live the music they perform. Yes, they’re performing music but they might as well be talking. The guitar and melodic lyric are like talking for them. Christiansen and Dawson are bards. They were sent a copy of Kralj and Anderson’s script and they chose songs to perform between each bit of dialogue. One imagines that there was a rather large pool of work to choose from...they chose the stuff they wrote about living together. Relationship stuff. Beautiful stuff.
It was a free performance at a retirement community, but it could have just as easily taken place in a park or a cafe or a teahouse somewhere. It’s so refreshing to see art brought together with such elegantly simple grace. Stripped of all its flashy production, performance can relax and live through people connecting with each other. No greater sophistication. Four people onstage. Sometimes thats all it takes to have a good time at a show.
Theatre Gigante’s 2018-2019 season has closed. For more information on upcoming shows as they are announced, visit Theatre Gigante online. Or visit Theatre Gigante on Facebook.