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Friday October 31, 2014
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Being Jeff Daniels

 

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The play shamelessly riffs off Waiting for Godot: two characters named A and B prowl around a bare set, interrogating each other in sometimes nonsensical sentences, archly delivered. A and B may be two parts of one brain: yin/yang, left brain/right brain, id/superego--pick your favorite dichotomy. They debate a life lived in a safe but stifling internal world versus one lived in the scary, unpredictable world outside the self. The dialogue can be pretty heavy going, though it is a one-act play (seventy minutes long), a form that lends itself to drier, more philosophical terrain than the traditional two or three acts with intermission. Still, I think Actor B, Michael Brian Ogden, could have taken a lighter route; he attacks the role with an exhausting weightiness, as if scouts from the Royal Shakespeare Company were in the audience.

Overlaying this existential skeleton, Daniels (or maybe this is director Guy Sanville's contribution) has the characters run through a series of exercises that make up the actor's basic toolkit. Mime, stage combat, and improv-with-audience all put in an appearance. But wait, there's more. What's the theme to Chariots of Fire doing here? And is the strobe light an homage to silent movies? And from my notes: "Did Daniels turn Buddhist? Wait, Christian? No, Buddhist. Is that Zorba the Greek?"

All told, though? I'm impressed. If Daniels' writing output is unfocused, and this play in particular seems an unedited outpouring of what's in his brain, it's a surprisingly well-stocked brain.

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