Tonight is my final performance for this run of “I Saw U” at Unexpected Productions. This is actually the second run for this show – I very much enjoyed the first production in May/June 2014.
Unlike some of our shows, this one uses very rich suggestions – specifically, 4 real-life stories pulled from a very specific sort of source. Seattle’s local newspaper has a column called ‘I Saw You” – it’s much like Craigslist’s Missed Connections. People write semi-anonymous messages to other people they noticed in real life but failed to connect with. They’re usually of a romantic nature. Our director gathers these stories, writes them on slips of paper, and places dozens of them in a heart-shaped box. Each night, we draw 4 stories, read them aloud, and re-enact them as if the connection was made in the first place. We also weave the stories together, inspired by the movie “Singles” – the star of one story may be the best friend in another.
I love this show because these unique suggestions take most of the narrative load off of our shoulders. We immediately get relationships and character suggestions; we know the starting objective of the message writers, and in many cases we also get a starter environment. And even better, the audience knows all of those things when we start. It frees us up to explore the emotion of these stories – and the sometimes-meaningless-but-intense banter or nervous flirting that happens in these circumstances. And our director, the one and only Elicia Wickstead, guided us towards a lighthearted tone that always respects the message-writers and leaves the audience at least somewhat uplifted.
I also get to play a wide range of relationships… during this run so far:
- My character met her male partner at a SuperCuts, which is a strange place for a hetero couple to meet in general. Their innocent attraction was almost ruined by his living situation when his roommate (from another storyline) revealed her continued feelings for my beau, but in the end we ended up together.
- My second character was spotted by a gentleman when we passed each other on escalators in opposite directions, I shoving a sandwich into my mouth at the time. We had a few lovely dates where we talked about the silent social expectations around early dates, and a funny but bizarre recurring gag about stuffed animals and foreplay. But later on I realized that my best friend had been in love with this very same guy – her coworker – for years, and when I put 2 and 2 together he left me to go to her.
- During week 3, I played a party girl who met her new girlfriend, a sometimes yoga instructor, while out dancing at Neighbors.
Week 4 was perhaps my biggest challenge in the show to date. As luck would have it, the slips came out unbalanced: the stories called for 5 women and 3 men. We’re intentionally not playing cross-gender to prevent confusion between stories, so that meant one of us would have to be in 2 relationships and that ended up falling to me. Further complicating matters was that one of the relationships was hetero and one was a lesbian relationship. So I’m backstage, just a few seconds before going into my first story, wondering – what kind of a character would do this in a romantic comedy? How can she be relatable if need be even though she’s almost guaranteed to hurt one of them? Is she confused? Bisexual? Is she open about this, or closed off?
In the end, it turned out Muriel (my character’s name) was generally heterosexual, and met Jared first (from her neighborhood.) They hit it off, but my 2nd story provided natural tension since it mentioned I’d be moving to Portland soon. That informed my character and gave her an unmoored feeling – when you’re about to transition your life, risks become bigger and in some cases easier to make. My character met Elanor at a bar, and at first it started out platonic. Eventually, this new partner offered to show me around Portland, where the audience got to see Muriel come to the realization about what was happening when Elanor put her hand on my leg. After a jaw-dropped silence and some pondering, Muriel decided to pursue this new feeling.
That triangle came to a head in our final scene of that story, where Jared came over to Muriel’s apartment while Elanor was over. After some barbs between Muriel’s suitors, Muriel took Jared aside and they talked themselves into a sort-of-breakup, which was especially heartbreaking since in the prior scene Jared had told his best friend that he was totally in love. All I could do was place my mind fully into the situation and react emotionally, rather than trying to script what would come next. When I walked onstage I didn’t know how the confrontation would resolve.
Standing there, reveling in the painful awkwardness of this strange breakup, I had moments of worry – is this the story that needed to be told? Is the audience engaged? But after the show, the audience seemed genuinely excited and enthusiastic. One woman came up and immediately hugged me, and said, “You were my favorite. You were very convincing!” That meant a great deal; mainly because that character had been so difficult to identify with. Thank you, audience member. And thank you to the cast for filling out the rest of the show in such a way that we could get away with a serious scene like that, when contrasted with the lightness found in some of the other relationships.
And at the end of the day, the best I Saw U performances run that gamut. 4 very different relationships, resolving in different ways. I get one more swing at the heart shaped box tonight at 8:30PM – won’t you join us?