Entertainment » Theatre

Reel to Reel

by Adam Brinklow
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Feb 12, 2018
Reel to Reel

John Kovenbach's new play at the Magic Theatre "Reel To Reel" explores the ups and downs of Foley artists in love, as well as the curiously invasive nature of an enduring relationship where you're constantly invading each other's space.

That shared space here is a convincing looking but curiously bare apartment set designed by Erik Flatmo, which our leads for some reason seem to occupy for the entirety of their 55-year relationship. Maybe it's rent controlled?

Throughout "Reel To Reel," one acting duo play our quirky artists in love in their younger days while a second show us the pair in their elder years.

When younger Maggie (Santa Cruz actor Zoe Winters) first meets younger Walter (Andrew Pastides) at an anonymous house party they fall into a rough and tumble courtship that will seem tangibly familiar to anyone who has consumed any kind of American media in the last century.

He's pallid and somewhat feckless, she's highly manic, and for some reason they hit it off. Yep, it's one of those stories. She's essentially proposed within two minutes of meeting, and he goes along with it seemingly for lack of any other inertia.

Winters has absolutely no problem stepping into the part, coming across quite sincerely as a person who has never even slowed down enough to have a second thought. Pastides seems a bit up in the air, although that's probably because Kovenbach has him on the back foot virtually all of the time.

To be honest, this seems less like eccentric but enduring love for the ages and more like two severely undermedicated people in the middle of a dual cry for help. But that's less of a problem than the fact that almost nothing about this romance really seems plausible.

And "Reel To Reel" would very much like to be a play about the granular details of real intimacy, as showcased by a much more successful scene where all four roles share overlapping monologues about the distinctive sounds they associate with their partners.

It's witty, but the fact that the actor's facial expressions (especially Winters') are the most striking thing about a scene that's supposed to be about sounds is another way in which "Reel To Reel" doesn't ever seem comfortable with itself.

Just like the part where Pastides wakes up after what's supposed to be a night of impulsive sex. Not only is he still fully dressed but he even still has his coat on, leather elbow patches and all. If this was a joke it would be extremely funny, but it's not, so it's just odd.

"You can never really understand another person's marriage," we're told constantly throughout the play. And that's true, much of this is indeed very hard to understand.

"Reel To Reel" wants to explore authentic relationships, but it doesn't put in the hard work of seeming authentic, instead appealing to Kovenbach's talent for the absurd. Real relationships are absurd too, we suppose, but they're not usually this self-conscious about it.

Longtime Bay Area actor Will Marchetti plays an older, more comfortable version of Walter, largely at ease with himself and his marriage after more than 50 years, having grown into a charming kind of confidence over the course of the relationship.

Carla Spindt is an older Maggie, also seemingly less at odds with life, as if her younger self had been her with the volume up and now she's found a more natural level.

"Reel To Reel's" title and preoccupation with audio comes from Maggie's gig creating sound plays ("collages" she calls them) strung together from bits and pieces of recordings. We get to hear several but, disappointingly, only for a few minutes and with relatively few audio effects.

She tells her imagined audience to cover their eyes before the performance, but it's not clear whether we, the real audience, are supposed to follow suit.

Watching means the audio doesn't do its job; closing your eyes means missing out on Winters'/Spindt's performance. In neither case is it ever clear you're doing what's intended.

If "Reel To Reel" wants to be an audio play, then why isn't it? And if it doesn't, why bother with all of this to-do at all?

"Reel To Reel" plays through February 25 at the Magic Theater, Building D in Fort Mason, San Francisco. For tickets and information, visit MagicTheater.org

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