And I Was Like: Whatever [by Matt Baker]
In his programme notes, writer and director Sam Brooks puts forth the question, ‘What happens when you take one of the fundamental pillars of relationships, the words, out of the equation?’ He summarises by saying that ‘when it gets from the stage to your faces, maybe you’ll get your answer.’ If there is an answer to be found in this play, it is a bleak one.
The premise itself has promise, but the show inevitably fails in its execution of it. It focuses on relationship dynamics, but presents them as nothing more than selfish and ugly. When Philip falls in love with Trace, who is mute, his closest friend, Christine, tells him he is making a mistake. Why? Because she doesn’t want to see him get hurt. Yet there is no reason to believe this will happen so early on in the piece. Trace’s sister chastises both of them. Even Trace himself seems completely nonchalant towards Philip. Silence is one thing, but Trace is actually closed off. We’re told of how and when he stopped talking, but it’s such an inconsequential and boring story. The why is never explained, so why are we meant to care as an audience? Either the reason should be extreme, or it should be left completely unknown to the audience. There’s a room in Trace’s apartment, which remains locked to Philip, it’s symbolic, but it also remains locked to us. Similarly, and without giving the ending away, if Trace ever does choose to speak, he has to have a very good reason to do so. If he doesn’t, we need to have at least some clues as to why. Audiences don’t need answers, but they do require questions to be raised without complete ambiguity.
Eli Mathewson is given very little to work with, not in regards to script or fellow actor, but in direction. Brooding looks and raised eyebrows only go so far. What could have been a great demonstration of a talented and recently graduated actor working moment to moment was completely lost in a lack of play.
Taofia Pelesasa is very easy to watch on stage, and while the character certainly works hard, the actor doesn’t need to. Flabbergasted is a great action to play, but it wears thin very quickly. Pelesasa drives through the lines in great character style, but in doing so drives through the moments between them as well, so thought processes and traction throughout the play are lost.
Steven Chudley warms into Mark, especially in his final scene, where the character’s true colours and juxtaposition to his girlfriend shine, but is a wasted character in Jono. Elyse Brock plays Trace’s sister Anna without any redeeming features. She’s bitter, irritable, and heaps all of her deep-rooted sibling-related troubles onto Philip. Apparently, Trace is his problem, not hers, but that doesn’t stop her from pontificating about how to handle a situation that she herself dropped like a hot rock.
There is a great moment where Christine, played by Kate Castle, illustrates the fundamental difference in her relationship with Mark and Philip’s with Trace, but, other than this, her reasoning as a character is underdeveloped. Even their dynamic as friends is questionable.
Set design, also by Brooks, is far too minimal in the transverse seating arrangement of The Basement theatre, with wasted space on either side. Lighting design by Amber Molloy is nicely accentuated in the love scenes.
Brooks acknowledges his appointment as director was an unexpected happening, but, while he also acknowledges the transition from writer to director requires a new and open perspective on the material, his limitations in the role are glaringly obvious. Mathewson and Pelesasa are both solid actors, but even the best actors need clear and strongly realised direction.
And I was Like plays at The Basement until 16th March. Details see The Basement.