Imagine taking a script, tearing it into tiny pieces, gathering up all the best pieces and then staging that as a version of the script. Would that work?
In the case of Daniel MacIvor’s “Never Swim Alone,” produced by Lansing Community College’s Theatre Program, director Deb Keller has seemingly done just that — and oh boy, does it work!
Granted, MacIvor’s original form had some of the stagecraft of careful fragmentation, but Keller’s embellishments bring this formlessness to new heights of non-linear excellence. The production grafts sprigs of Greek tragedy onto branches of beat poetry — but delivered with a rap master’s intensity — then cross-pollinates it with dance movements, fight choreography and aerial stilt work. Pepper in strobe lighting and rapid-fire repetitions of the key themes of the play — all of this driven by an exotic musical overture that underlies the action — and one has a superbly complex riff on the desire to be first, the best, the winner above all. As Director Deb Keller puts it in liner notes, MacIvor’s play “rips open this dynamic.”
This is fringe festival, time-based performance artistry at its best — late to arrive on the usually staid mid-Michigan stages and long overdue.
The play features a cast of just three actors. Connor Kelly, as Bill, and Heath Sartorius, as Frank, are a matched pair — best friends since childhood, clothed in Madison Avenue splendor with silk ties and matching alligator leather briefcases. They compete, fiercely and relentlessly, for anything and everything. Boys meet girl, boys are enchanted by girl, boys compete for her attention in a must-win swim that ends in tragedy. A tale as old as time.
The dialogue is a deadly duel of overlapping synchronicity. The rapid-fire, rat-a-tat repartee crackles and sparks with unbridled hostility. Is there a winner, or are they both losers?
Monica Tanner, as the girl on the beach and the referee of this strange contest, is part umpire, part lifeguard as she perches precariously on a too-tall tripod, sometimes dangling from aerial silks, other times stepping out of harness and onto the stage to break up increasingly intense rounds of unleashed antagonisms. Tanner is exquisite and artistically elegant in this role. She’s a dancer who can act, and her movements seem both effortless and innovative.
All together, this trio is a three-legged stool of balance, timing, and attitude — the equivalent of what one might see in professional theater.
Keller, who is a trained facilitator of aerial silks work, uses her training to create unusual magic to this production. Tanner, near the end of this production, does a symbolic dance high above the stage, suggesting a drowning body sinking to the bottom of the bay. She falls in twists and turns through her suspended silk harness, only to slow and stop six inches from the floor. Breathtaking.
Not surprisingly, this resulted with a well deserved standing ovation from a sold-out Friday night audience.
“Never Swim Alone”
LCC Theatre Program 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9 and Saturday, Oct. 10 $10/$5 students LCC Blackbox Theatre, 168 Gannon Building 411 N. Grand Ave., Lansing (517) 483-1488, lcc.edu