How do you fit twenty five actors on a ten foot stage?

The play opens. We hear some party music, and all the actors filter onto the stage for the final moments of the year. After the party we are left with the hosting couple drunkenly cleaning up the mess, as they talk about their failure to have a child. From that scene we move on through the year, one scene for each month, going through Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July and other such monumental calendar events. In each month we meet another one or two, sometimes more characters with no relation to any of the others we’ve already met. What does it amount to? A cute evening of theatre, which easily brushes off the surface of your consciousness. A Year in the Life of Twenty Five Strangers Living in a City by the Lake, is an attempt by playwright Matthew Fotis to pull some of the non-theater-going masses out of their living rooms and into the public space. From the opening moment, which recalls the atmosphere of the sitcom Friends, this is a play written for a generation who expects its art to reflect the easily digestible content of its more mind-numbing forms of popular entertainment. And Fotis should be commended for trying to lure his generation with what they are looking for, while sprinkling some deeper material into the mix in order to take them beyond the box.

However, in his collage of 20-30-year-old life in Chicago, the playwright makes no real demands of his audience, allowing them too much distance to reflect upon the scenes and characters, without ever pulling them in to engage in the images emotionally. And aside from a few select moments, the material fails to continuously stimulate the mind toward challenging reflection.

That said, it’s a fun evening. Director Shaun Colledge makes good use of the tiny space of the intimate Parker Theatre, into which, in certain moments, he squeezes all of his twenty-five actors. Colledge manipulates his large cast to provide a sense of space when it is needed, or to heighten the claustrophobia of other moments. In one of the funniest scenes, a back room party mess erupts between two intermingled couples, and Colledge nails the comedic setup of the clever moment, which could easily be interpreted as bad drama.

The acting on the whole is good, although it is the scenes where the actors feel most comfortable in which the play flourishes. David Stadler and Michele Rafic are perfectly at home in their scene as a married couple on vacation in Paris. The familiar bickering over whether what will revive the relationship would be another tourist attraction or an afternoon on the bench in the park (guess which gender wants what!), flares into delightful comedy with Stadler and Rafic’s concise exacerbations. Jennifer Bishop and Ben Rosenblatt are endearing as the young couple in love, about to separate as they head to different colleges. Corey Shoemake and Adam Ferguson are funny as the gay meteorologist and the waiter he hits on in an emergency room.

It is interesting to see this bouncy production, with its light touches and easygoing atmosphere, as another attempt of theater artists to find a voice for their art form in this generation. I can’t say that Ten Grand Productions succeeds in taking today’s sensibilities and infusing them with greater depth, but they do offer some sweet little dishes to munch on as theater artists search for the way to reflect our present onstage.

Click for print friendly PDF version of this blog post