Despite a week filled with midterm preparations, I managed to fit in time to see two of the plays being presented at USC. I saw Swimming in the Shallows at the Center for Performance Experiment and The 39 Steps at Longstreet Theater. While technically very different plays, they were both full of mad-cap action and were side-splittingly funny.
Swimming in the Shallows, written by Adam Bock and guest directed by Scott Gigure, followed the lives of five friends through their crazy ups and downs in tiny, magical, Twig, Rhode Island, a place where sharks can talk. If that doesn’t sound like a good time, I don’t know what does. The script was funny, but the actors were definitely what brought it to life. With minimal set or costumes they managed to create a complex and interesting world of love and Buddhist monks. Described as “a delightful invitation into a theatrical world of magical realism”, it struck a great balance between emotional connection with the characters and crazy, magical elements. Plus plenty of laughs thrown into the mix.
Although The 39 Steps had a similar energy, the plot line was very different. Adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow from the Alfred Hitchcock movie and John Buchan book, and co-directed by Jim Helsinger and Brad DePlanche, the show utilizes only four very talented and dedicated actors to bring to life a story of mystery and intrigue. Set just before World War II, spies, national secrets, and murder are given a huge comedic twist. I have nothing but admiration for all of the actors, directors, and designers involved, because the comedy in this show was flawless. One thing that I thought was brilliant was putting the entire set (door, armchair, table, etc.) on wheels. The opening involved the main character walking through a door and an open window as they rolled by, setting the stage for the rest of the show. I also would like to give a shout out to my friend, Ashley Pittman, who designed the lighting. She accomplished the difficult task of creating a lighting design that both practically and artistically facilitates the story. While more plot based than Swimming in the Shallows, I was constantly on the edge of my seat, either to see what would happen next, or overtaken with laughter. August Krickel of the Free Times has a more in-depth review here: http://www.free-times.com/arts/hitchcock-spoof-emthe-39-steps-em-takes-audiences-on-comic-adventure
In the end, I cannot congratulate the casts and crews of both of these shows enough. All of their hard work paid off in what were two of the best nights I have had at the theater in a while.