MSU Theater scores big with Snapshot
In Lee Friedlander’s famous black and white photograph “Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, 1969” a pair of tourists equipped with binoculars stare up at the famous monument through the glass of the visitors center, the monument reflecting hauntingly above them. The photo is the inspiration behind the compendium of scenes and monologues in “Snapshot,” which was commissioned by the Actors’ Theatre of Louisville and premiered in March 2002, and is now being staged by the MSU Department of Theatre.
The pieces in the show offer brief "snapshots" of characters and situations that are never revisited. Some scenes are less accessible than others, and not all of them click easily with the theme, yet there is continuity, an emotional thread that weaves into each scene and monologue.
Sometimes there is a chuckle of recognition from the audience, sometimes a somber air or uneasy shifting; the audience is one big tour group surveying snippets of human existence.
The lights mimic the flash of a camera, capturing unsuspecting audience members in stark white as the actors move into position for the next scene. This lighting technique lends a disconcerting feeling for one accustomed to sitting in the comfortable darkness of a theater, but it fits the production superbly.
Each cast member plays multiple roles, and there is not a weak link among them. Every character is defined and owned. Many actors display a knack for accents and, in some cases, dancing (not very well, but true to character).
One scene that stands out is "History Lesson," featuring Maggie (Sam ONeill), a recently dumped and fired tour guide on her last day of work. ONeill is hilarious, and her timing is spot-on. Her monologue is not long enough, and she offers a welcome relief to the tension built in previous scenes.
Another notable scene features an instructor (Meghan Nystrom) teaching a class on "Becoming American" to credit card support line workers, all clearly foreign. She tells them that the hapless traveler in need of assistance wants a Tom or Julia from South Dakota to help them, not someone with an unpronounceable name from Ghana. One wonders how many variations of this speech are uttered in boardrooms across the country for the "benefit" of Americans everywhere.
This work is beautifully written; the many voices of the playwrights come together as one voice echoing the pain, absurdity and uniqueness of life in America. The talented actors find truth and rawness in their work, passing over cheap tricks and melodrama. Combined with original lighting and sound and inspired direction from Chaya Gordon-Bland, this “Snapshot” deserves a closer look.
Through Feb. 8 7:30 p.m. Wednesday & Thursday 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday Auditorium Arena Theatre, MSU $12 1 (800) WHARTON www.theatre.msu.edu