Play puts a twist on timeless themes

`In On It' takes minimalist approach to relationship tale

April 20, 2002|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,SUN STAFF

In On It is as suffused with regret and imminent loss as a blazing red maple tree in the fall.

So don't be put off because the production at the Theatre Project has the trappings of experimental theater, with a spiraling narrative that simultaneously takes place on three levels and plays around with memory and time.

Don't be deterred that the show has only two actors, who belong to a Canadian theater company called da da kamera, or that they spend much of their time on stage talking to one another while standing stiff as toy soldiers and looking out at the audience. Don't be intimidated by the minimalist props - two chairs and a gray lambswool jacket - in the cavernous, gunmetal-gray performing area.

Above all, don't stay away just because the Theatre Project apparently either has no air conditioning, or doesn't always turn it on. The show is only 80 minutes long, and it runs just through tonight. You can be hot for 80 minutes. It'll be worth it.

You don't have to be cool or hip or up on new trends in performance art to enjoy In On It. The play by Daniel MacIvor bears more than a passing resemblance to Woody Allen's Annie Hall, with its pair of tender, striving, but fundamentally incompatible lovers - although in this case, the lovers are gay. It is elegantly written and emotionally accessible, poignant, lovely and sad.

The lovers, known as This One and That One, are staging a play about Ray, who struggles to come to terms with his life and the people in it when he learns he has a fatal illness. Ray's wife, Brenda, is having an affair with a neighbor, and his son, Miles, is a self-absorbed advertising executive.

As This One and That One discuss their characters' motivations and try to come up with a way to end their play, they also, inevitably, discuss their own coming together and breaking apart. The different strands are joined in a finale that resolves some of the audience's uncertainty, but poses a mystery of its own.

Each time the narrative changes levels, stage lights signal the shift. A warm, yellowish light bathes the actors when they work on the play or discuss their romance, while Ray, Brenda and Miles are lighted with blinding white. The contrast heightens the play's sense of hyper-reality.

MacIvor is a talented writer, and In On It showcases his gifts for poetic imagery and humor. (In one memorable bit, That One claims that his boyfriend doesn't really like opera - he just likes Maria Callas, and that's tantamount to liking Barbra Streisand. This One intones furiously: "Take that back!")

MacIvor also directed and co-stars in this production as This One, the more conventional and uptight of the two lovers. But beneath This One's formal exterior, there is great subtlety of feeling. Variations of heartbreak and longing play across MacIvor's face like clouds scudding across the sky.

That One (Darren O'Donnell) is more immediately appealing. He is outgoing and expressive, at turns beseeching and self-confident. He's not ashamed to make a fool of himself for love or for his friends, so he easily wins over both This One and the audience.

That turns out to be not enough, of course - any more than the maple's last show of splendor can prevent its leaves from falling off. But it sure is beautiful while it lasts.

In On It

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 tonight

Tickets: $20 general public; $15 students, seniors, artists

Call: 410-752-8558

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