What do you find more compelling; perfection or vulnerability? Pardon the existential nature of my introduction (that’s kind of how I roll), but that feels like the question at the heart of Swandive Theatre’s new production. In any arena, perfection is a feat to behold. Experiencing any piece of perfection, be it a performance, writing, dramatic balance, or a freaking sunset is stunning! Perfection overwhelms the senses and stops us in our tracks, its rarity makes it valuable. But perfection can become so commonplace that it loses its worth. In recorded music this is clearly the case as lo-fi music (along with cassette tapes) is taken just as seriously as perfectly recorded studio albums (delivered via digital media). Enter vulnerability. The disarming of our judgements. The act of jousting us off our high horses. When someone bares their soul without any protection or distraction that can clearly be just as compelling as perfection. Swandive Theatre’s ‘living room tour’ of the one-woman show ‘Stranded on Earth’ is kind of the ultimate act of vulnerability.
Full disclosure: Swandive Theatre is the company of my friend Damon Runnals (owner and operator of MN Playlist). Fuller disclosure: I maintain a personal code of absurd honesty in my writing so I refuse to be biased :)
Damon invited me to see the first performance of this tour, which was something of a preview for an invite-only audience. Being a preview performance, it wouldn’t be fair for me to write a review of this show so I’ll offer something more of a play-by-play ‘field report’. On Thursday night I drove to see this preview performance at the local venue known as “Steve’s house”. If you’re not familiar with this venue that’s because it’s not a venue at all but just where some dude named Steve lives. That’s right, the ‘living room tour’ is literally theater in people’s living rooms. I go to a lot of theater shows and I almost always maintain a feeling of anonymity in the audience. Even at a small venue I don’t usually know the ticket taker or the concession stand worker and I can maintain an easy arm’s-length from it all. Walking into Steve’s house I was greeted by Steve, then his visiting mother, then his dog Jarvis, then his other guests. I was offered tea by his personal whistling tea kettle and snacks including his favorite vegetarian chip dip (Steve swears that the chickpea concoction is the closest thing you’ll find to chicken salad (and he’s right)). In someone’s home, my ‘guest’ instincts kicked in and I asked about removing shoes, I shook everyone’s hand, I made funny little jokes that hopefully made my hosts feel comfortable having me (a total stranger) there. After ample chit-chat time meeting everyone we made our way to the living room and set ourselves on the collected couches and office chairs (with a bookshelf as my personal cupholder). After a brief introduction by producer Damon, and a slight musical entrance (played from Damon’s laptop) the play began. Our one-woman protagonist (Nicole Goeden) entered the stage with no curtain, no lighting cues, and only a single chair for staging.
Then the play happened. The play matched the vibe of evening with alarming consistency. The script by Eric Coble is simple and personal. It is not grandiose and doesn’t attempt to be anything other than the hopes and heartaches of a single character. There are no songs nor dances but essentially a 60-minute monologue by the infinitely-engaging Goeden.
At the play’s ending the small audience applauded, congratulated, and mingled once again. Us guests (naturally) talked about the play. We said what we liked, what we related to, what seemed familiar and what felt new. We talked about favorite plays we’ve seen and what else we’re excited to see soon. We ate more chickpea dip and drank more tea. Jarvis was a good boy and we eventually found our coats and headed back to our real lives. Walking back to my car it all felt a little surreal… that the prepared play was only half of the theater that evening. That driving to this new neighborhood, meeting these people, and watching them watch the show was as much of an experience as the performance itself. Driving home felt like the end of the play Our Town where Emily just re-lived one arbitrary day of her life and, in hindsight, realized that our small daily experiences are the most profound and meaningful experiences we have.
"Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? -every, every minute?"
"No. The Saints and poets, maybe-they do some.”
Be a saint. Be a poet. Go check out the living room tour.