The Joys of Working Without-A-Net

The Improvisario (Conor Mullen) reviews Buried in Time [played “without a net”]

Artistic New Directions (AND) Theatre Company are hardly the first group of theatre artists to ask the question “what if your actor had memorized all their lines and created a character, but didn’t know what the other actors in the scene were going to do or how they would react?” but they might be one of the first theatre groups to actually try and answer that question in any meaningful way with the new play “Buried in Time” performed “Without-A-Net”.

The premise of “Without-A-Net” is simple: five directors work with five different casts to put up five unique productions of this play. The set, lights, script, costumes, and props are all kept consistent across the five shows, but the blocking, acting, and casting is all completely unique to each group. When the show is performed one cast member from each show is used so the actors never know what to expect from each of the other people they are performing with.

First of all, this is cool. Anyone out there interested in exploring the nature of acting or studying the craft should already be sold on seeing this project as soon as possible. It’s truly a unique experience in New York and it has the capability, on premise alone, to provide insights on acting that few other types of performance can. The only other place in New York you could see something remotely like this would be at LINE at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre. That show has a large rotating ensemble cast and by virtue of situation can often achieve a similar result since the players rarely play with the same four others every night. But even compared to LINE, “Without-A-Net” is a truly unique premise for a production and worth looking into on that alone.

I’d like to share without a few of the assumptions I made about this show before going to see it. I assumed this was going to be a fairly hokey and silly show. I’m typically sent to review improv-heavy material and I had a strong suspicion this would be a lot like that. The audience laughing as actors struggled to match dialogue to blocking or different performers tripping over each other. I thought that would be the real show to watch. What I got when I saw the show was something very different.

If you’re coming to see “Buried in Time” to watch actors struggle to work together on stage, you’re going to be disappointed. I think those people who opt to see this show one time and then go on with their life will walk away having seen a decent, if a little run-of-the-mill, play. However, if you see the show a few times (which Artistic New Directions and I both recommend) you’re in for a wonderful experience.

I saw “Buried in Time” twice. Each time with the same light, the same set, the same costumes, the same entrances and exist and words. The only thing that changed was the cast… and I’m amazed how different the two shows were. I found myself sympathizing with different characters and watching different relationships develop the second time I saw the show, and it was amazing. I mean, we all know that who you cast in a show and what they do has an impact on the story you tell, but for the first time in my life I was watching that theory proven true before my eyes. In a world where high tech broadway sets take center stage (ha) and between dancing, singing, and circus tricks, acting seems to be the last thing on everyone’s mind. But this show instead decides to take the time to be a celebration of acting and the power actors have to shape the show they are in. For the part of me that is an actor that’s an empowering experience.

Before I wrap up this review it would be a disservice to not speak a few words about the play itself: “Buried in Time” by Kristine Niven. The play focuses on a small town funeral that brings NYC journalist and cable news star Cherlotte (Jennifer Laine Williams, Mary Monahan, and others) home to visit her brother, Rusty (Alexander Guiney, Josh Marcantel, and others) for the service at a funeral parlor run by her old flame, Zach (David Perez-Ribada, Ian Campbell Dunn, and others). Things are made more complicated when they’re joined by the aging Bernie (Charlotte Hampden, Lucy McMichael, and others) as well as the wanna-be journalist, Cassidy (Rachel Halper, Gina LeMoine, and others).

The play is a perfect fit for the “Without-A-Net” project. On it’s own it might be tough to recommend (it’s not a bad play by any stretch, but it doesn’t do much to draw attention to itself). The script leaves plenty of room for actors to make their own choices and interpret lines the way they want without throwing the play completely out of whack. The characters are all well written and nobody comes across as a stereotype or completely unlikeable. It wasn’t a show I minded watching twice in a single night either, and that’s pretty impressive.

All in all this is a show not to be missed. If you’re an actor looking to be reminded that what you do really makes a difference or just somebody looking to see a well written play with some variable acting thrown in, I think this is an excellent piece of work and I hope Artistic New Directions brings it back again sooner rather than later.


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