This past weekend I travelled to Austin to spend some much needed quality time with my friend Ann. Oh Ann-- the artistic genius that I get the privilege to call a dear, close friend, and although I could wax eloquently and long about how much her friendship means to me, I'm going to put my efforts into making an attempt at reviewing her latest theatrical performance.
Foursquare: An Amateur Review
I take my seat with a playbill in my hand, and little other than a brief, vague, teasing summary in my head. Yes, Ann ran lines earlier in the day in her room with another of the actors, Doug, but I purposely kept my ears out of hearing distance so as not to spoil the experience that is about to begin. On the black floor of the theater, a crudely, yet carefully, drawn chalk outline of a foursquare court sits empty under the stage lights. The intimate black box theater lights dim and slowly rise as three actors enter the scene.
Beverley, David, and Bill will raptly hold my attention for the next seventy-five minutes. The first thing I notice is Beverley is shoeless and wearing a man's sport coat much too large for her small frame. Well, this screams symbolism to the English teacher in me. These feet are bare for a reason (vulnerability?), and this coat has to be more than a coat (protection?). Or are they? In my mind they are more, so I go with it. Everything is playful as the piece opens, reminiscent of the childhood game of foursquare. All the characters win me over with their introductions and opening dialogue. By the end, I will simultaneously hate and pity one, want to save one, and hope against all odds the remaining one can actually save the one I want to save myself.
As the story unfolds, the game intensifies and thank goodness for Bill. When the battle of emotions and painful memories that is raging between Beverley and David reaches the multiple fever pitches throughout the play, Bill, the stand up comic, appears under the spotlight to give the audience an awkward, deadpan delivery of much needed, non comedic, comic relief. The audience breathes again momentarily.
Debilitating disease and physical brokenness reflective of a deeper internal struggle, all-consuming, life-destroying guilt pushing a person to projected anger and violence, painful heartache holding on to the promise of another person to love someday, these are what shape the intricate and complex characters who dance with each other, sometimes hopefully and sometimes violently, within the confines of their foursquare court. As they dance and wrestle, the chalk lines blur and smudge. The lines that were so carefully drawn in the beginning change into messy smudges. Lives cross, stories are interwoven, and just like life, the details are convoluted, and they even change as they are retold. The mess of the lines of the court reflects the inner workings of the characters themselves. They are no longer three strangers. Their story lines have crossed. Life happens in the in-between, where the mess of their lives causes the smudges, blurring the lines we try so desperately to keep straight to protect ourselves from our own messes and the messes of others.
Foursquare--I keep coming back to the title, the childhood game, the action playing out in front of me. This is the game as the play starts. We all play games. We know the rules. The game of foursquare, so seemingly innocent and childlike on the surface, yet so symbolic of how we live our lives. Make it to the top square. Eliminate the competition. Use manipulation and trickery to get to the top. Life, love, childhood games, the venues change, but somehow we keep playing by the same rules. It's no wonder why so many people end up damaged, bearing the scars of trying to play the game. Thankfully though, despite heartache, despite betrayal, despite the emptiness of our decisions or the decisions of others, despite whatever curveballs life may choose to throw our direction, most of us stay in the game. Some of us choose to leave the game on our own terms to make amends for past betrayals. Those of us who choose to stay and play do so because, like Bill and Beverley, we hope that someone will be out there who wants to dance in the midst of the game, that someone will be out there who wants to cross the line, step into our own messiness and be in our square with us.