Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Typograher's Dream

As I stood in the lobby at the end of opening night of “The Typographer’s Dream,” currently at Capital Stage, a group of people next to me were asking each other “What in the world was that all about?”

In truth, I was asking myself the same thing about the one-act Adam Bock play, directed by Stephanie Gularte. I wasn’t sure what it was, but what I was sure of was that I had enjoyed it very much.

Bock’s inspiration for his play was his developing love of typography – the designing of text and its placement on a page – while working at a design firm. He thought he should write a play about a typographer, and then, carrying the idea to the absurd with rhyming words, decided to add a geographer and a stenographer as well. He thought it would be interesting to explore the extent to which people’s jobs affect who they are in real life. (E.g., a geographer is concerned with boundaries – political boundaries, historical boundaries, social boundaries. Is she concerned with boundaries in her real life? Boundaries between people?)

There is no plot line in this comedy and for it to work a strong cast is essential. Fortunately for the audience, Gularte has a stellar cast who know how to wring the most out of every nanosecond on stage.

The show opens in silence for several minutes. Stenographer Dave (Davis’ Peter Mohrmann, who has also served as Capital Stage’s managing director for the past four years) enters hesitantly from the back of the theater, pulling a small suitcase on wheels. He proceeds to the stage set up for what looks like a panel discussion, and appears appalled to discover an audience out front, and no other people on stage. Mohrmann’s travels around and behind the stage are hilarious. He has the comedic timing of a Charlie Chaplain.

Eventually Dave settles himself at the speaker’s table, behind the sign which says “Stenographer.” He carefully pulls his a machine out of the little suitcase and meticulously sets it up on the table.

The door bursts open and in comes Annalise, the geographer (a welcome return to the Sacramento stage of Saffron Henke). Still in silence, Annalise quickly takes over the stage, moving Dave around, and settling herself in.

The two wait, impatiently (Annalise) and nervously (Dave), for the Typographer, who eventually rolls in. Literally. Gail Dartz is wonderful as Margaret, clearly the least forceful of the three, and easily interrupted as she attempts to speak In fact, her lines for most of the first quarter of the play consist of “Um”... “Um”... “Um. Ah.” However, timing is crucial and her delivery is impeccable.

The three are apparently at this event to describe their jobs. Clearly all three are passionate about their work and proud of the good job they do.

Without interaction with each other, they take turns talking about their jobs. Dave waxes poetic about the importance of stenography (technically court reporting, he reminds us many times, in struggling to identify exactly what his job should be called. “You call yourself a court reporter,” he says. “It’s a little more glamorous.”) He stresses his importance as the witness of record in court cases, and swells with pride at the skill required. “Those who can't quite achieve the necessary manual dexterity can always become surgeons.”

Annalise is excited about her profession, but upset that “geography” gets buried in the larger heading of “social studies” in school and wants it to be recognized for the significant stand-alone job that it is.

Margaret is in love with the beauty of typography, the design of words on the page, the page itself, the colors, the typefaces, the letters (though numbers trouble her, she admits). “I am my job,” she says. “I don’t care. I know that. It’s what I do all day. I am my job.”

As the play progresses, it become apparent that these three have personal reactions with each other and the effect their professions have on those relationships are brought out. Are they all happy having their very being set by what job they do?

Bock’s crisp dialog, Gularte’s skillful direction, and the actors’ impeccable timing make this a thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes entertainment. Even if you aren’t sure what it is when it’s all finished!

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