In Mathematics there is a very popular theory called the “Butterfly Effect”, which says that a butterfly can flap its wings over a flower in China and cause a hurricane in the Amazon rainforest. Being Translated into everyday situation, this theory basically means that sometimes a very small step we take or a decision we make earlier in life will transcend through time and set the tone for our emotions and actions later on with bigger consequences. According to Liam Macik, the Artistic Director of Throughline Theatre Company, the third installment of their sixth season is all about this kind of notion.
Winner of the company’s second annual New Play Competition, Games of the Mindtells a story about two best friends, Gregory and Margaret, representing their Catholic high school to compete in rounds of Scholastic Scrimmage, and later realizing that their relationships with the third teammate, Dominic, has eventually become the turbulence in their friendship and each other’s own love life for the next ten years. With two timelines intertwined and on going at the same time on stage, the story surely shows the audience how this high school drama-like butterfly wing-flapping can cause the hurricane in each character’s adult life.
However, it’s a comedy.
The reason why I said “however” is that the farce-like language and the frivolous behaviors of the characters indeed confuse the theme of the story and eventually weaken the overall dramatic tension of the play. Of course one can argue that this is a satire piece. Yet based on the way the narration is dramatized and how it still addresses some serious issues, such as religion and sexuality, I couldn’t help but wonder if the true subjective theme of the play was overshadowed by the objective comedic presentation. Maybe this was intentional after all to fit the overall theme of the season, “Method of Madness”?
Written by Pittsburgh local actor and playwright F.J Hartland, the script will make you laugh while asking all of the tough questions. And some of them will get answered in the end while others remain open to interpretation. The build up of the suspense through parallel timelines and mischievous relationships between three teammates in Act I was effective and very intriguing. However, the way everything got explained in Act II (without spoiling the plot here) was generally a letdown and not strongly convincing when you think back on each character’s choices and thought process.
All the main characters in the story have very distinct and memorable personalities and can bring back all of your high school nightmares and old time “good times”. Gregory and Margaret were played by two young actors Karter Schachner and Katie Trupiano. Because in the story these two characters are also the center of a moral dilemma, they are not the kind of protagonists that the audience will fall in love with in a heart beat. But Mr. Shachner and Ms. Trupiano’s performances were still genuinely funny and moving, and would make you vouch for their characters from time to time.
Ms. Joyce Miller played Sister Brigit, the coach of the Scholastic Scrimmage team who later turned out to play a bigger part in the games of the mind. This character could easily have been the most interesting character in the entire play, as her attitude and motivation fundamentally drives the plot forward and supports the big revelation in the end. However Ms. Miller’s interpretation somewhat narrowed that complexity to a singular personality—it was a very successfully scary and satirically hilarious portrait, but we also really want to understand her and feel for the character’s decisions at those important dramatic moments.
All of the other actors generally did a good job of bringing back the high school drama while maintaining the comedic atmosphere. Honorable mention Ms. Maura Underwood for her portrait of the wickedly drunk TV show hostess Monica Mosely, and Mr. Michael Brewer for his genuine performance as Florian, who turned out to be the biggest winner of audience’s sympathies in the story.
Directed by Ms. Allison M. Weakland, the play overall has a nostalgic touch with a hint of mystery. Although at certain scenes the pacing was not coherent enough to build up and maintain the dramatic tension, the general momentum did humor the audience and won the surprising laughs it set out for. The music in the play managed to stay consistent with that millennial feeling, despite the fact that at a few times the volume was rather distracting. The scenery and costume design team brilliantly created a time and space structure for the plot to evolve and switch in between. So whenever a character was on stage we immediately knew which story line he or she is in.
As it promised, Games of the Mind did provoke the conversation of what should we do in these conflicting situations and who should we follow in those not-black-or-white scenarios where one’s crazy obsession might affect the others’ moral decisions. However, a lot of critical dramatic moments eventually were executed in a melo-comedic fashion that the true theme of the story was rather out of focus and got sacrificed in the game.
Games of the Mind
Presented by Throughline Theatre Company
Directed by Allison M. Weakland
Written by F.J. Hartland
Designed by Maryane Kimbler (props), Beth Stari (costumes), Joseph A. Walker (scenery), Wendy E. Baxter (lighting), Sarah McPartland (sound), Kate Louise Marchewka (stage manager)
Starring Karter Schachner (Gregory), Katie Trupiano (Margaret), Michael Brewer (Florian), Erik Martin (Sebastian), Joyce Miller (Sister Brigid), Derrick Shane (Dominic), Maura Underwood (Monica Mosely), Alaina Gilchrist (ensemble), Ashley Rice (ensemble), Scott Vickinovac (ensemble).
Special Thanks to Throughline Theatre Company for the complimentary press tickets. The show runs until September 19th. For more information about season productions and ticketing, check out their website.
Performance Date: Friday, September 11, 2015