The first few minutes of Varve, a play written and directed by Bob Lutz PO ’13, are nearly completely silent. Except for a muttered expletive as the protagonist Maxine (played by Mary Kamitaki PO ’15) enters an empty apartment in the middle of the night, there is no dialogue. The only sounds are the clicks of Maxine opening and closing her single suitcase, the tinkle of her bottle of moonshine, and the rustles as she puts back her unneeded lock-picking kit.
Kamitaki’s strong on-stage presence, seen last semester in a compelling production of The Mike and Morgan Show, ensures that those first few minutes are as intriguing as the play’s premise—a former archaeologist goes on the lam, breaking into abandoned apartments for a place to stay. She is also accompanied by an internal monologue, which is delivered by three imagined characters: a creative director, a stage manager, and an actress.
Although the premise might seem contrived, the performances of Cole Clark PO ’16, Oliver Shirley PO ’15, and Lilly Carver PO ’16 as Maxine’s internal voices nicely elucidate otherwise confusing material. Each plays their part true enough to stereotype to be funny, yet nuanced enough to feel somewhat genuine. Part of the characters’ success is probably due to the fact that Lutz cast the roles before finishing the script, allowing traits (like Shirley’s height) to become integrated in the show.
At the start of Wednesday’s performance, the first of a three-show run closing Friday at 8 p.m., the actors seemed a little stilted and their timing was a bit off. As they got more comfortable onstage, however, the show became both entertaining and intellectually stimulating. At one point, the characters make wordplay out of the fact that Alexandre Dumas (author of The Three Musketeers) has a last name that could be pronounced like “dumbass.” Punny, ironic, and meta, it’s clearly a play written by someone with academic interests.
Lutz’s script also repeatedly breaks and references the fourth wall, creating questions about agency and creative process. Similar to the narrator Karen Eiffel in the film Stranger than Fiction, Maxine’s peanut gallery both directs and is influenced by her life. They advise her on her actions and decision-making, but in a pivotal scene in the play, Maxine decides whether or not her “bitchy imaginary friends,” as she calls them, get to continue having input on her life.
Clark, Carver, and Shirley also play additional roles as a nosy couple and aspiring writer, respectively, whose building Maxine begins to illegally inhabit. Shirley’s character, Anthony, becomes a love interest for Maxine, although the chemistry isn’t 100 percent believable. There are a few moments with some sexual tension, but Kamitaki and Shirley are best when they are verbally sparring.
The best thing about any Bottom Line Theatre production is always the honesty of the acting. Sets and costumes are minimal and all the focus is on the characters and the script. Familiarity with BLT’s work allowed Lutz to recognize this and work it to his advantage.
“I wanted to keep it very minimal and have the qualities of the characters shine through because that’s what BLT does well. We’re not big on resources,” Lutz said.
Varve plays for the last time at 8 p.m. tonight, April 19, in the Large Studio of Pomona College’s Seaver Theatre.