Sunday, March 13, 2016

"Swimmers"


Swimmers
Rachel Bonds
Marin Theatre Company

Aaron Roman Weiner & Max Rosenak
A mysterious black billboard is said to proclaim in blaring white letters, “7/7/16 – End of the World.”  Coyotes suddenly roam urban industrial parks; a scraggly woman in the woods taps a passer’s-by head warning, “The time has come,” and there is talk in the hallways of the sure-to-happen rapture.  Maybe these are not the normal conversations of office cohorts on a typical work day; but then as one vocalizes for all, “I’m just worried about things ... Feels like a lot is happening.” 

All day, apocalyptic worries creep in and out of office mates’ banter – but so do juicy gossip of the big boss’s suggestive whispers into a young intern’s ear, worries about a colleague’s mental state after last week’s trip to the emergency room, hopeful flirtations that fall disappointedly flat, and news by one of a big promotion and by another, of being passed over.   In a series of snapshots from early morning in the basement until late night on the roof of an office complex, Rachel Bonds has written a fascinating exposé of a modern work setting where people who spend a good portion of their waking hours with each other learn that the impending doom many of them is feeling is shared by most others. They also begin to discover that rather than some outside, inevitable catastrophe, their shared sense of ruination may be more related to those other parts of their everyday lives that largely go unshared at work.  Marin Theatre Company presents with a superb cast and under outstanding direction the world premiere of Swimmers, a fast-moving, compelling, and fascinating slice of work life that could be yesterday, today, or tomorrow at almost any of hundreds of Silicon Valley companies.

Tom is the main voice for the malaise contagion that apparently is fast spreading among his work colleagues.  The billboard of this morning, the coyotes on the Internet camera, and now the arriving fire trucks are all sure signs for him that “the world is crazy now ... I feel it is about to boil over.”  Aaron Roman Weiner looks as if he has seen a specter of bad things to come as he repeatedly answers questions of how he is doing with blank-faced “uh’s”, hesitated “It’s complicated,” or just silent stares.  Like an onion with many layers of peeling skin, he slowly unveils as the day progresses what is actually bubbling inside the tightly bound expression he silently wears; and an untold story emerges that begins to explain his sadness.

The untold story behind pent-up tensions, the worries about career, or the reasons for being either overly hyper or unusually subdued is a key thread and theme of Ms. Bonds’ take on corporate culture.  While the number of hours together is indeed many, the amount these people really know each other is often minuscule while the potential for support, empathy, and understanding is immense when they allow just a tad more openness. 

Sarah Nina Hayon & Kristin Villaneuva
Sarah Nina Hayon is chatty, gregarious Charlene, a mother of two in the midst of a messy divorce who is also a bit of mother to her colleagues at work.  Her high energy and caring nature try hard to hide her own worries about being single again and ruining her kids’ lives.  She is also taking under her supervisorial wing twenty-two-year-old Vivian (Kristin Villaneuva) who opines, “I’m pretty boring, I guess” and who worries as a young, beautiful woman, “The gap between what I am and what people think I am is getting bigger all the time.” 

Jessica Bates & Ryan Vincent Anderson
As Priya, Jolly Abraham is another twenty-something who is friendly enough but always a bit nervous and somehow uncomfortable.  But she does have the courage to approach Tom with an admission and an invitation that surprises both him and her.  The office’s female contingent is filled out by Farrah, a rambunctious, ambitious ball of fire played with gusto by Jessica Bates.  While worried a bit about the upcoming rapture and upset with news that she may be falling behind the competitive race to advance up the ladder, she does find the time and a means to push a quiet colleague, Yuri, temporarily out of his shell – an act that involves a hilarious rendezvous at a full sink of water.  Marathoner Yuri (Brian Herndon) speaks eight languages, is reserved and mostly a listener around his colleagues, and has at the top of his life’s must-do list, learning to swim.

Quick to sit with sock feet curled under him, Randy in his orange shirt and tie is anything but reserved.   He likes getting into the “world is screwed up” conversations but also seems to be the office source for ways to de-stress oneself through the weeded contents of his many Altoids tins.  Stressed is exactly how Bill (Ryan Vincent Anderson) appears in his worried looks and hesitant answers, even though he has just been promoted to VP and is about to get married – all pointing to something else going on inside that massive wall he has built up around himself. 

Adam Andrianopoulos
A happenstance meeting between pretty Vivian and portly Dennis over a cup of tea becomes one of the play’s best exchanges as he uses his weird sense of humor about his size and unique habits to bring some joy into a young woman whose introduction to corporate life has been anything but easy.  Adam Andrianopoulos appears only once during this hour, forty-five synopsis of one day at the office; but his self-deprecating, jolly Dennis is totally fun, heart-warming, and memorable.

L. Peter Callender & Sarah Nina Hayon
Sad and creepy is Charles Shaw Robinson as George, the alcoholic boss charged with sexual harassment.  Other tragic parts of his life do not justify his at-work behavior but again are a reminder that what we see at work is not necessarily the entire story.  His pitiful story, told in breaking voice, and his shallow defense of bad behavior spills out unwantedly to Walter, the building’s big-voiced, animated maintenance guy who shows up throughout the day to fix problems, offer encouragement to troubled folks, and serve as an important, albeit unexpected bond in linking everyone together.  L. Peter Callender proves that in today’s less hierarchal work places, sometimes the guy at the bottom holds an important key to the cultural norms and atmosphere that play as big a part in the firm’s success as its business strategies. 

As the nighttime sky looms above at day’s end, how much out of the ordinary has really happened?  It is highly probable that tomorrow will be just another day, like any other day of the workweek.  However, it does feel that the apocalypse has perhaps been delayed for a while, that connections have occurred on new levels, and that while personal troubles have not gone away, they have been given some new perspectives.  In the end, Mike Donahue has deftly directed this Marin Theatre cast of eleven through a day of vignettes that fail to tell a story with beginning, middle, and end but that do weave a patch-worked quilt vividly portraying the undercurrent pressures and stresses that delightfully quirky and touchingly sad people are coping with on a daily basis in their work worlds.  All are indeed swimmers just trying to stay afloat in the flood of worries and woes life has dealt them.

Rating: 4 E

Swimmers continues through March 27, 2016 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA.  Tickets are available online at http://www.marintheatre.org or by calling the box office Tuesday – Sunday, 12 -5 p.m.



Photos by Kevin Berne

1 comment: