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Someone Else's Life

[The following review is scheduled to appear online in Variety.com the week of October 22nd and in Variety magazine the week of October 29th.]

Like the famous Hindu image of a thousand faces, our lives often seem to blend together into pieces of someone else's life. Perhaps this explains the mass commercial frenzy that feeds off our penchant for voyeurism and reality TV. In Conundrum Productions world premiere of Scott Gibson's newest piece, Someone Else's Life, we observe five distinct approaches to this ancient enigma of the one and the many, while the quintet observes each other and themselves.

Director Jim Hunt shows why he has proven to be a mainstay in shaping local new work, by developing the camaraderie and trust of his players and using it to create viable connections and palpable conflict.

Amongst the pines and the peaks sits a rustic resort where Rose and Alan have made their annual summer pilgrimage to relax, reflect, and recreate. For Rose, it is an opportunity to indulge her artistic yearnings—drawing one year; attempting to write a novel the next—looking for some expressive clue as to the meaning of her life.

Susan D'Autremont as Rose and John Samson as Alan
Susan D'Autremont as Rose
and John Samson as Alan
Photo: Ellen Nelson
Susan D'Autremont begins each of Rose's mornings with ambitions that would fill a universe—two lattes, pastries, the New York Times, and small talk with Alan at the table in front of their cabin; afterwards, her watercolors, her journal, and her insatiable interest in other people's lives. D'Autremont paints a bright picture here that contrasts sharply with the seething emotional fury she releases in controlled bursts whenever Alan makes a plea for more meaningful conversation and intimacy—a ploy which Rose fears will swallow her up and prevent her longed-for epiphany.

As the other elder in the ensemble, John Samson's Alan shares his wife's interest in the forces that have brought him and his temporary neighbors to their present circumstances. Samson, though, shows Alan to be more circumspect in this than Rose, drawing out his juniors with a blend of fact and fiction drawn from his experience, his thirst for adventure, and his desire for connectedness, rather than snooping and spying on them as Rose does. Samson's Alan is a kind-hearted soul who meanders around the point to soften the blow, but delivers the coup de grāce when the time comes.

Susan Scott as Amy and John Samson as Alan
Susan Scott as Amy
and John Samson as Alan
Photo: Ellen Nelson
Into Rose and Alan's murky idyll stumbles Amy, after having marched five miles up the road from the bus stop in a bridesmaid's dress and heels. Her hair strew with leaves, her feet worn with blisters, her handbag filled with a wad of currency, Amy is ready to seize the chance to make the most of her "one wild and precious life," as Gibson alludes to in his notes.

Susan Scott's Amy is part itinerant wanderer, part seeker; she's been driven in horror from her sister's wedding by the crassness of the ceremony and the fear that such confinement will be hers if she stays; instead, she follows a vision of rural simplicity that she has derived from a Norman Rockwell image on a calendar at work. Scott's Amy brims with confidence as she methodically plans her escape, yet reveals her vulnerability and confesses her sins when Alan reveals he's got her number.

Susan Scott as Amy and Jono Waldman as Matthew
Susan Scott as Amy
and Jono Waldman as Matthew
Photo: Ellen Nelson
Brothers Matthew and Daniel are, like Amy, refugees from a sister's wedding and the dysfunctional familial cocoon that envelopes it. Jono Waldman has a field day with the irrepressible Matthew, for whom life is a Bacchanalian feast. Whether stumbling out of his room in the aftermath of Daniel's ill-timed coitus interruptus or staggering back to the cabin after an evening's reverie, Waldman freely shares Matthew's infinite delight in life's sensual pleasures. When Amy surgically dissects his motives, we get the feeling from Waldman that Matthew's honor is truly threatened.

Jono Waldman as Matthew and Jake Mechling as Daniel
Jono Waldman as Matthew
and Jake Mechling as Daniel
Photo: Ellen Nelson
On the other end of the chromatic scale is Jake Mechling's Daniel, a sour, impatient youth for whom the slightest human encounter is a painful exercise. Mechling holds Daniel's feelings of displacement like a dark secret that prevents him from spending much time in any one place and from getting to know anyone there. Never abandoning his arid bubble, Mechling delivers with impeccable comedic timing the final line of the play and leaves us wondering whether Daniel will step out of his self-imposed chains.

Gibson's work professes nothing more than to ask us questions about our own lives. He builds the stakes without any gratuitous, heavy-handed devices that seems to be the modus operandi these days, relying instead on the hidden and unspoken. His early work with thrillers and mysteries shows through in the subtle clues that form the drama in this story. If anything, Someone Else's Life is Chekhov light. That is, minus a loaded gun for gravity, Gibson's petit bourgeois, like the self-obsessed gentry before the fall of the Czar, have no time for the global crises that loom outside their romantic setting—indeed only Alan (like Astrov in Uncle Vanya) seems the least interested in nature—and like an audience from Three Sisters, we exit asking ourselves whether we will ever get it together and go to Moscow in search of our dreams.

Conundrum Production's world premiere of Scott Gibson's Someone Else's Life runs through November 11th at the Buntport Theatre. 303-601-2640.

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