I have always felt uncomfortable with the phrase "slice of life" when describing pieces of theatre. As someone who commutes in the fine city of New York, I get plenty of contact with "life" as I walk up and down the streets, and when I come into the theatre I want to see something that is pricks me in some way, something different what I see around me on a normal day. Inviolet Rep's production of Megan Hart's new show This is Fiction is a perfect example of how one unusual day in the lives of regular characters can be fascinating. The events in this play are totally plausible as a heightened form of these characters' lives, and I thoroughly enjoyed this well done new piece.
Walking into the Studio space at the Cherry Lane Theatre immediately tells you what kind of atmosphere you are about to inhabit. Lauren Helpern's set is anchored by a fully realistic kitchen upstage and rounded out by a more flexible downstage area -- which becomes two different locations with a quick scene change. This space is a perfect supplement to the strong acting that takes place upon it, and together these elements lead to an overall aesthetic unity.
The four actor cast, under Shelley Butler's direction, brings Hart's quirky comedy into balance with the deeper emotional issues about the boundary between family and the individual family member. We are first introduced to Ed (Bernardo Cubría) and Amy (Aubyn Philabaum) who are meeting for the first time at a coffee shop. Amy has written a book, but she has run out of a publishing meeting because she got a bad feeling about it. In the next scene we find Amy at home with her sister Celia (Michelle David) and her father David (Richard Masur). Amy needs to ask her family about the book she has written, which is a major conflict.
I am tempted to say something about realism here, but I will compromise by saying that the play's text has a lovely balance of entirely realistic dialogue and more symbolic uses of language that fall under the category of naturalism. The difference between these two is always difficult to pin down precisely, but I like the definition that states that naturalism is a subset of realism that concentrates on the psychology of one of the characters. We certainly have glimpses into Amy's mind throughout the piece, and our experience does follow hers.
Yet whenever possible it seems that Hart has chosen to preserve a natural progression of conversation. Though the dialogue is, of course, streamlined in many ways, we still see very recognizable aspects of, for example, family arguments. This is not to say that you will recognize your own family in the play, but the Hart has managed to home in on the Benson family's dynamics to such a degree that I have some sense of knowing each and every one of them.
As we learn more about these people, we are forced to think about what our protagonist Amy is struggling to figure out: exactly where does one member of the family's experience end, and another's begin and who can claim these shared experiences? Amy has written a novel, not a memoir, but it clearly based on her own story. If you want to see something that will make you laugh while making you think, I would choose This is Fiction out of the factions of fictions.
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