For an evening of unique and intriguing interest, make a point to attend Todd Theatre’s presentation of “365 Days/365 Plays,” written and co-produced by Suzan-Lori Parks. Your attendance guarantees an hour and 10 minutes of smiles and head-scratching, gasps and laughs.
Parks wrote the play immediately after deciding to act on an impulse to “write a play a day for a year.” Each day, Parks composed a play based on her current thoughts of the day regarding the life of an artist.
The first sight apparent upon walking into Todd’s dark performance space is the 365 note cards hanging approximately six or seven feet above the floor. Each card is numbered and written on the back are tasks to be performed. They range from a simple “cross your fingers” to a more thought-provoking “look before you leap.”
The sparsely-lit room gives an initial feeling of awe, followed by a somewhat ominous, suspenseful aura as the audience waits for the play to begin. And then, without warning, the play begins.
The current 14-day run of these plays corresponds to the day that Parks wrote the play over the year. Overall, it was very hard to follow the purpose of each day’s play, especially the first four days. Oct. 15 through Oct. 18 were comprised of four plays that, in spite of being quite entertaining and full of superb acting, hardly seemed to have a purpose at the opening of the play or throughout the continuation of the performance. Only one of the first four acts, in fact, seemed to tie in to the rest of the short plays.
In the stories from Oct. 19 through Oct. 28, the play started to develop more of an underlying theme. As I watched the next 11 acts, I began to feel that the different sections of the play began to suggest that “things aren’t always what they seem.”
During “Strings attached? No sweat, cause the soul knows no bounds,” (Oct. 19), the viewers witness the mealtime of two inmates, who seemed at first glance to be starving as they ripped the tops off of the tin cans and shoveled the contents into their mouths. In the meantime, a long string was run between the two men. The audience next watched the inmates construct old-school tin can telephones out of the two cans and the string, realizing that they were not in fact starving, but eager to talk with one another. They stood and began to “speak” into them, while voiceovers provide various dialogues.
However, this was not the final purpose of the string. It was mirrored on the floor with a beam of light, and the Oct. 20 act, “1 and 2” portrayed a fearful man walking a tightrope.
Upon reading the program, I discovered that this was meant to be a reenactment of high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s walk between the Twin Towers in New York City.
The actor (senior Jonathon Wetherbee) very realistically acted out a man slowly crouching and sinking down in fear of falling off of the tightrope, and then quickly, accompanied by a change in background sound, Wetherbee became a cowboy napping in a field.
Waking from his nap in the Oct. 21 act, “Plenty,” the cowboy witnessed the suited man with the bouquet of flowers step out of the basin of water and pick up a rope that a woman from the second act had dropped into his basin, in an attempt to catch a better husband. The audience soon realized that he was a heartbroken man attempting to end his own life. Everyone gasps as Witte stepped off of the ladder, literally appearing to hang himself! The cowboy jumps up to lift him to safety, and the first half of the play came to a close.
Intermission gave me an opportunity to gather my thoughts regarding the play. So far, the play was extremely entertaining but didn’t really appear to have a bottom line yet. However, despite the confusion, I was thoroughly impressed with the immense skills of the actors. They are very confident and professional and performed each act with skill and obvious practice.
The second half of the play was comprised of seven acts that seemed to almost “run together.” On Oct. 22, we witnessed what looked like safari adventurers examining and stealing a music box from a traveling couple.
The act “Bee” featured a gigantic cardboard bee controlled by seven actors (dressed in yellow and black stripes), while a seemingly content couple looked on as the bee died. It was soon evident though that the couple was not happy, as the man got angry and forced his wife to the ground and pinned her there. She ended up fighting to escape from him.
The actors controlling the bee, though, soon became involved in the next act, as they “become” school children, dressed in matching uniforms. This act faded into another as more actors arrived onstage and played the roles of parents, while the school children became kids picnicking out at a park or beach.
The final scene of the play was the one that most supported the idea that the underlying theme is “things aren’t always what they seem.” The honeybee returned, but accompanied by loud, threatening music. The crowd was awe-struck, and the play ended with an upbeat dance.
“365 Days/365 Plays” is truly a unique production that will cause an uncommon cross of laughter and confusion for its audience. The actors and actresses are clearly well-rehearsed and very talented, adding to a most enjoyable experience for me and the rest of the audience.
Nicewicz is a member of the class of 2009.