Thursday, April 5, 2018

Doll, Not Guy

First it was a boxing fan at my side, then it was tonight's star.

When I took the only available stool at 821 Cafe, I had no clue I'd be sidling up to a girl eating a vegan crabcake sandwich (wtf?) and a guy sipping beer and shooting whiskey while extolling the fighting skills of Joseph Parker and Anthony Joshua and lamenting the pitfalls of bare knuckle boxing.

Somewhere in there, my black bean nachos arrived, except that instead of the half order I'd requested, I was staring at a full platter o' nachos without the faintest hope of finishing them. My server apologized for mis-hearing my order, even offering to box up the alarmingly large amount remaining, but we all know nachos don't reheat.

By the time I was leaving, the boxing fan was deep in discussion with another server about Muay Thai and I knew I needed more from any conversation I was going to eavesdrop on than that

Settling in at the Firehouse Theater, I was directly in front of three women disgusted with the widespread use of "you guys" when directed at a mixed or, even worse, all female audience. "How can they look at me and say "this guy here"?" one woman demanded to know. Truthfully, I feel the same way when "dude" is directed at me.

I stopped paying attention to them when a large man sat down next to me and it turned out he was the guest actor in tonight's two-man show, "An Oak Tree." Aaron Anderson explained that he'd just arrived an hour ago, only to have had some basic information relayed to him and an ear mic taped to the back of his neck.

What followed was a play about a hypnotist, played with dimples by Landon Nagel, with Aaron portraying Andy, the father of a young girl accidentally killed by the hypnotist's car. The hook was that while Landon knew his lines, all of Aaron's were either read from a script Landon handed him or repeated after Landon told him what to say or whispered them into Aaron's ear mic. He even told him when to sit, lay down and stand.

Translation: Aaron had no more idea what was going to happen than we did. He'd been expressly told not to research the play and he hadn't, but you don't get to be associate chair of VCU's department of theater without having considerable acting chops even without rehearsal.

His real life cred was also the source of a major laugh when Aaron's character asks the hypnotist what he was and is told, "You're a teacher."

He particularly excelled in a scene where he was hypnotized and told he was naked and that he'd just had diarrhea all over himself. Needless to say, there was a bit of improv involved as he sought to wipe the mess onto Landon.

In one sense, the play was about dealing with grief, with Aaron's character having convinced himself that his daughter was now an oak tree near where he went to sit and think of her. In another sense, it was about the illusion Landon creates, playing the hypnotist, effectively directing the action onstage and even instructing the audience on how we should react.

So we were being manipulated just like Aaron/Andy was.

At one point, Landon asks of Aaron about the action, "Don't you think it's a bit contrived?" and Aaron responds, "Hard to tell from here." While that got a big laugh, it was also an excellent talking point post-play.

Martial arts and faulty gender pronouns aside, the only thing I like as much as a good talking point is a worthy conversation partner. And then there's Pru's rule: don't bring up a topic unless you can go deep.

I wouldn't think of it. Where's the pleasure in that?

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