A script lacking any discernible punctuation, line breaks or obvious dramatic flow has the marked potential to be a classic example of “college theater” — that is to say, a complex play with bizarre scenic design and overwrought acting.
So it is a fine and fortunate thing that the LAB! Theatre’s first black box LAB!ratory production of the year is so charming, engaging and fun an experiment in dramatic structure.
“Sic,” written in loose grammatical verse by playwright Melissa James Gibson, weaves a complicated web about the sad lives of its three main characters. Frank, Theo and Babette live together on the third floor of a mid-size apartment building in an unspecified American city. They call themselves friends, but as Babette sadly notes, “You’re either friends with the people you wish you were, or the people you are afraid you are.”
For these three, it’s the latter. They’re a nervous, unhappy and hopelessly petty trio of thirtysomethings with all the problems that come with being out of your twenties and still lacking focus. They are failed writers, stalled musicians and would-be auctioneers, trapped together in an apartment building with nothing to look forward to except the next Chinese take-out dinner.
To describe the plot beyond these bare bones would be a disservice to the production. While very little ‘happens’ in the conventional sense, the three leads and their two hidden upstairs neighbors-cum-sound-effects-providers guide the intimately small audience on a tense emotional journey.
As the sharp-tongued Babette, senior Ramey Mize keeps the production constantly in motion. Her stage presence is captivating in its simplicity, and she seems actively engaged in the piece even when she’s quietly painting or shaving her legs on the side of the stage.
Her hallmates, sophomore Peter Vance and senior Matt Sampson, are equally as engaging. Vance, in particular, handles his character’s unusual quirks and repeated lines with skill. (Vance’s Frank longs to be an auctioneer, and as such Vance must yell out numbers and folksy tongue twisters on a constant and often unsettling basis.)
From behind a row of cardboard boxes at the rear of the stage, junior Lariah Ijames and freshman Kevin Spellman provide almost spot-on sound effects, slamming doors and cueing music as needed. They also hold court as an invisible and slowly disintegrating couple, fighting over possessions and talking their relationship into the ground. The pair’s sparse dialogue offers some of the production’s most tender and meaningful moments.
At roughly an hour and 40 minutes and lacking any sort of intermission, “Sic” runs a bit on the longish side, especially for many in the opening night audience who couldn’t help but pull out their phones to tweet or text or ask their neighbor loudly what exactly was happening in front of them on the stage. And when that stage is in fact the space in front of a Department of Dramatic Art Building’s classroom, these kinds of distractions become particularly obnoxious.
The cast soldiers through. Their delicate, unique approach to the dramatic adventure that is “Sic” gives the production a joyful kind of lightness. This is college theater, but its college theater by skilled college actors. And there’s nothin’ (sic) wrong with that.
Four out of Five stars.
“Sic” runs through Monday, Oct. 3 in room 103 of the Center for Dramatic Arts. Showtimes are 8 pm Friday through Sunday, with a 2 pm matinee on Sunday, Oct. 2 and a 5 pm final performance on Monday, Oct. 3. Admission is free, but seats are extremely limited. See labtheatre.blogspot.com for more information.
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