by Matthew A. Everett | 8/4/09 • A Backstage Tale, Told The Right Way
“She was a brand new teacher straight from the teacher factory. You could smell the plastic wrap on her.”
|single white fringe geek is the blog of matthew a. everett. in addition to being one of seven bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet, he blogs throughout the year about theater and culture.|
If there’s anything about a show that will send me running in the opposite direction, far away from it, it is learning that the show is about artists. Theater about theater, theater about TV, theater about film, theater about writers, actors, directors, you name it – nothing tries my patience or bores the pants off me more. Except maybe hearing about their upbringing that led them to be artists. Or their day jobs. Stop crying about how tough it is to do your art and, you know, just do it. Hold the mirror up to nature, not yourself.
There are notable, but rare, exceptions to this general theatergoing rule of mine. Without exception, they make the smart choice of treating the characters as human beings first, and artists second. The art isn’t the point, the universal human experience is.
Nancy Donoval’s Every Pastie Tells A Story is one of those rare exceptions.
At first, when Nancy introduces us to the unexpected fact that she owns a pastie collection, it feels as if we may be in for a night of brief but related multiple anecdotes about a wide variety of the pasties on her shelf. After all, it became an opening night tradition of her days as a college theater actress, that she would receive a new set of pasties, made especially for her. There must be a great many stories to tell. But after telling the tale of where pasties and she first teamed up to lighten the mood of a grueling technical rehearsal, Nancy quickly settles on one particular pair of pasties. The lobster claw pasties. They become a doorway into the specifics, and the cast of characters, of a production of “Ah, Wilderness!”
But again, the beauty of this story is that “Ah, Wilderness!” isn’t the point. Though I love Eugene O’Neill, I’m not really familiar with the play, but it didn’t matter. Nancy shared just the details we needed to know, in order to understand the people in the story. Two key players were her friends Barb (the strong, lead actress type) and Michele (the young ingenue type), with their friend Nancy (the character actress type). Also important, the director visiting their college from New York. The crucible of this particular production is key to the nature of their friendships, their careers, and ultimately the rest of their lives. The things they learned about themselves from the risks that they took, on and off stage, before an audience ever saw the production, would have an enormous impact on who they were, and who they would become.
Nancy weaves her memories, and the alternate versions of those memories from the perspectives of Michele and Barb, to create a story that explores the very notion of memory. When Nancy recently reconnected with her two old friends to go digging into the details of that shared experience, perceptions and assumptions of long-standing were completely undone. The fact that Nancy is able to integrate nearly thirty years’ worth of time and conflicting narratives into a rich, full, and funny story that always says just what it needs to say, and no more, never ceases to amaze me. No rambling, no excess story fat, just the details that make the point – even when you don’t know until much later, when it all ties together, exactly how it all fits. Oh, and how it ties together. And how it fits.
It’s a lovely, lovely thing.
When disaster strikes and the set it destroyed, and the cast doesn’t know how they will adjust to having their perfectly constructed imaginary world ripped out from under their feet right before they are set to face an audience, the director reminds them…
“Theater is actors
on a stage
You don’t need anything else.”
Give Nancy Donoval an hour of your attention, and she’ll prove that truism of theater all over again.
Very Highly Recommended
Her website – www.NancyDonoval.com
Her Fringe-For-All preview…
Fringe 2009 – 8:30 Saturday – show #14
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