Directed by Vanessa Gilbert, the play concerns five characters – two men (James Barton and Andrew Tung), two women (Jennifer Welsh and Veronica Wiseman), and a young boy (Alex Dhima) – confined together in a small space. This much we know for sure. The rest is left up to our imaginations via a smorgasbord of apparently allegoric dialogue, physicality and interaction. But the key word here is “apparently.” The play seems at first to be made up of non sequiturs. But the more you listen to it, the more you realize how continuous it really is. The world Meehan has constructed is not only compelling – it’s very connected. We watch these five frazzled, complex souls bounce off of each other like particles in Brownian motion. At first, it seems each of the five is trying to steal the spotlight from the rest – but gradually it becomes clear that we’re not just seeing how they fit into themselves; we’re seeing how they fit together and how they fit together is deeply uncomfortable. There is all kinds of call and response, all kinds of releasing of each other’s pain.
Often it is obvious the characters are speaking directly to one another, that they hear one another. Other times, it is unclear whether we are hearing their subconscious, or an inner monologue, or something else. I liked that Meehan and Gilbert respected the audience enough to let us connect the dots between lines and actions. There is so much your mind can do with great lines like these (from various points in the play): “Nobody knows anything; I’m taking up knitting.” “I was born in a shoebox; I’ll die in a shoebox.” “Stories are exhausting in general, and sad stories, even more so.”
In the end, you feel you’ve joined these five souls in their padded cell, their support group, their “No Exit,” wherever it is, and learned who they are, or at least a tiny piece of it. Even so, you kind of feel each of them came in from his or her own play. I’d say that’s where the real novelty of Real Realism lies. Implanted in the imagination of a given audience member, the play can transform into virtually any adventure.