For anyone who has watched a newscast covering a major event with on-air reporters struggling to offer something new to the story after hours on air, the newest production at Orcas Center will ring painfully familiar.
The curiously titled “Tragedy: a Tragedy” opening Nov. 4 on the main stage marks the center’s return to live theatre. It is, in the words of director Jake Perrine, “an existential comedy, a ‘Waiting for Godot’ for the 21st century.”
Written by Brooklyn-based Will Eno, an award-winning playwright The New York Times called “a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation,” the play features Christopher Evans, Jon Spinogatti, Colleen Smith and Caleb Summers, a cast Perrine had identified long before receiving permission to produce the play.
“‘Tragedy’ is my favorite play and finally being able to produce it on the island is quite a thrill,” he said.
The production opens Thursday, Nov. 4, and runs through Saturday, Nov. 13. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 7 at 2 p.m. Tiered ticket prices range from $15-$47. COVID precautions will be diligently followed and include: proof of vaccination at the door; masks must be worn inside the center and shows will be socially distanced with assigned seating. Further, there will be no box office attendant prior to each performance. For tickets and more information, visit www.orcascenter.org.
Without giving away the storyline, the 75-minute play is performed on a stark stage with a desk and projections depicting a broadcast newsroom. Frank in the Studio, played by veteran actor Spinogotti, attempts to ensure viewers that he and his team are on top of the breaking story even as each begins to show the strain of non-stop coverage with no apparent resolution in sight. Reporters John in the Field, played by islander Evans and Constance at Home, performed by OC regular Smith struggle under the weight of consistently commenting on an event they have no apparent knowledge of nor why it’s going on. Summers as Michael the Legal Advisor offers occasional missives meant to calm the masses from the unnamed state’s governor.
Beyond a doubt, however, it’s the dialogue that is the show’s centerpiece. Each actor performs numerous monologues, dreamlike ramblings that are at once humorous and disturbing. Wordplay and oxymorons run throughout, peppered with nonsensical groupings. Yet, underneath all of it, there’s a feeling the playwright is making a point. Just what that point is, however, is definitely up to interpretation. Is it how we witness our reality? Our ability to tell stories? The role of news in contemporary society?
Whatever the playwright’s intent, Perrine has great respect for Eno’s work and has instructed his cast to memorize everything as it’s written.
“The language is so well-crafted, so rhythmic that every comma, every pause must be considered. It’s almost Shakespearian in its ambition,” he said.
Although ‘Tragedy’ was first performed in 2008, the play’s undercurrent feels surprisingly relevant. As OC’s first in-person production since COVID canceled the musical “Chicago,” Perrine hopes the audience will walk away from each performance “touched by the beauty and fragility of the current situation.”
“Whatever’s going on in our lives, especially during these dark times, there’s always room for laughter,” Perrine added.