Stranger Than Science Fiction
a review of Riot Act's world premiere production.
Creating a play sounds simple. Write a script, pull together a set and some lights, get your actors to connect with each other, and it should all work. Ah, but so rarely it does. Theatermaking is a nearly impossible task. For the subtle changes of the lights to align with the tone of the scene, for the set to compliment the space but also bend the audience's perception of reality far enough for them to truly believe they are anywhere other than a theater, for actors to not just say their lines but pull from a consistent well of believable human truths and transmit them authentically enough to be perceived as real - all of this takes an advanced form of creativity. And there is no director better suited for the task than Whit Flint.
Making my way into the space to see SCIENCE FICTION, my awareness is drawn to the attention to detail. A cold, unusual warehouse space has been transformed into a greenhouse lab on the moon of a distant planet. Ratermanis enters, and this is the moment my body relaxes. Having read the play in advance I am privy to a small but deeply important detail about her character, cleverly revealed by Whit's decision to style her with no shoes. To understand the value of this creative choice, you would need to see the play. But at this moment, I know I am in good hands. A wise and deliberate director will always plant seeds (no pun intended), often revealing in the first moments of the action something so obvious, the audience might not catch it. This is exactly what Whit has done, the theatergoers next to me just don't know it yet.
Archer, playing the woeful human protagonist, embodies every shade of masculinity. He propagates and destroys seeds of ideas, over and over again in a ritualistic inner battle. He is a storm, unimaginably tortured but totally relatable. Deep into one of he and Ratermanis's emotional dogfights, balanced with both intellectualism and profound human feeling, I have forgotten completely that the scene had opened hilariously on Archer masturbating. Ratermanis, still trying to understand him, asks why he wants privacy to pleasure himself alone. As he declares, "because I can control how that ends" I get chills, reminded of each moment in my own life I've chosen control over connection, certainty over risk, myself over others.
Another unforgettable detail is Whit's writing of female characters. While I don't think womanhood, femininity or the female bodied experience is quantifiable, Whit's ability to isolate and understand a woman's loving reach for vulnerability amidst the violent tempest of a man's insecurity is a rare gift for a male writer. Ratermanis's metamorphosis is a character arc akin to Nora from A Doll's House, but more satisfying. Her presence becomes a delicate, raw nerve and she has an innocence so sincere I find myself desiring its spoliation as her self-awareness grows. When she pleads with Archer to understand her (in ways he is destined not to) I become aware of the cold, vast world just beyond the playing space, I can feel in my body that these are the only two beings for hundreds of millions of miles in all directions.
Whit's direction held me, deliberately and intentionally, from the moment I walked into the theater all the way through my commute home that evening. In my car alone, I take a deep breath and realize that for me personally, Whit's work on SCIENCE FICTION is a reminder of how easily and willingly we become prisoners to our own minds.
Jagger Waters is a screenwriter, comedian, and producer. Her work has won several awards including New Faces New Voices, Austin After Dark Film Festival, Snowtown Film Festival, Oregon Short Film Festival and the New York Movie awards. She is based in Los Angeles.