The first notable moment in “Box,” a new experimental theater piece from Stacy Donovan GS’93, is in the playbill. While most dramas can usually credit one or two writers, the list on the “Written and Developed By” part of the playbill seems endless, ranging from the actors to the costume designer to Donovan herself. And while one might fear the ultimate disaster of too many cooks spoiling the broth, Donovan, as director, has taken charge and fearlessly led her cast of talented actors into a strange and mystifying work.
“Box,” which originally premiered at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, doesn’t carry a usual synopsis, and describing one would be difficult. The drama forgoes a classical narrative arc in favor of a set of loosely tied vignettes, most told without dialogue. Donavan, who has created a number of pieces based more on the movement and staging of her actors than relying on dialogue (including a number of Shakespeare plays), relies on the mood of each vignettes to tell the story. What can be certain is that the story is based around a single female protagonist, who is brought into a strange world by a male character, and the characters that inhabit this world are childlike and playful, often playing with a set of large stage boxes.
The show regularly switches its moods, from delight and joy to utter fear and loss of control. One of the more interesting developments in the show though comes when the fourth wall is finally broken between the actors and the audience. Breaking the fourth wall can be seen as a tired cliché of experimental theater, but Donovan and her crew take a fresh approach by having characters fear entering the space and making it an actual journey instead of a checklist marker.
The standout of “Box” though is the cast. Because there was never a set script, Donovan and her cast created their own characters, making changes throughout the process, and critiqued each other’s work of what their characters should be (In fact, the show has a mostly different cast than the one which showed at Edinburgh, and thus the actors developed a slightly different show than the one that premiered). Their process is evident in the dedication each actor has to his or her character—they fully envelop a plethora of personalities, each one more enjoyable than the next. The actors’ fearlessness—the quality that Donovan described she most looked for during her casting process—keeps us centered in the action, as does the protagonist and her companion. She seems to be as curious about this world as we are, and her emotional journey through each of the vignettes becomes our way of exploring the world as well.
“Box” might not be accessible to everyone, but like the actors on stage, those who have the courage to go along for the ride and simply become invested in the moods instead of the narrative, will find the play a rewarding experience. The title does not only refer to the cubes on stage but also the breaking from the confines of our own box, and taking a risk with something daring. On that level, “Box” and Donovan, succeed on a number of fronts.
Peter Labuza, CC’11