Saturday, July 6, 2013

Planet Connections Review - "Catch the Spider"

By Jose Solis

In Catch the Spider, playwright Sara Ilyse Jacobson intends to weave a complex relation between memory, unrequited love and Celtic mythology, but the results end up having much more in common with a forgettable Hollywood romantic comedy, than a profound retelling of modern life through myths. On the first scene we meet Callie (Michelle Petterson) and Julian (Ben Otto) two lifelong friends taking part in a game of tag. At first we might think that they’re college students being silly in a post-party, drunken state, but then realize we’re actually seeing a flashback that helps us understand the extent of their friendship.

As we see them in “present time”, we find out what they’ve become; Callie is an uptight writer, trying to finish a novel about the IRA. She’s in a relationship with Aiden (Christopher Travlos) a devout lover who thinks the world of her but fails to notice just how unhappy she really is. Callie’s friend Megan (Alessandra Drapos) is a highly sexual young woman who approaches everything with the intention of providing bedroom advice or showing off her expertise in sex toys. When she sets her eye on the free spirited, but wandering, Julian she sets in motion a strange dramatic arc that confuses neurotic behavior with depth and nuance.

First, Callie becomes jealous and we discover that not only is she madly in love with her best friend, but that she somehow has chosen to punish herself and Aiden over it. Scene after scene we see her become more and more dislikable, which dramatically should be profound instead of grating, and this is partly because her character is both under and overwritten. Parallel to the plot we are told the story of  Étaín, the Irish goddess of the sun, who like Callie finds herself trapped between the love of two men, Midir and Eochaid. The difference of course being than in the “real life” story we’re attending, only one of the men has any romantic interest in the heroine.

Where the comparisons between Callie and Étaín should have been empowering or at least heartbreaking (the goddess’ love story has a downright tragic ending), what we perceive instead is a writer following drama school guidelines and trying to find forced inspiration in canonical sources. The play is often filled with references to Irish pride and history that contribute little to a story that is basically a botched romantic triangle. 

The actors all make a great effort to help the audience find any coherence in what they’re seeing and both Drapos and Otto are true standouts. The former for allowing her character to blossom from comedic sidekick to a real human being (despite her downright ridiculous lines), the latter for finding the essence of someone as lost as Julian. His boyish good looks and careless demeanor make us understand why Callie and Megan both think he can save them, something made devastating by his lost gaze and eerily adorable aimlessness.

Director Jon Raik does a great job in making the most out of what he has to work with but it would’ve been great if he had changed the structure of the play. The mythological factor is quite interesting, but it never clicks with the main plot and for all we know it might only confuse audiences who will go home wondering who the hell is Étaín and how do they spell her name.

Catch the Spider
Written by Sara Ilyse Jacobson

Directed by Jon Raik

Michelle Petterson (Callie), Ben Otto (Julian), Alessandra Drapos (Morgan), Christopher Travlos (Aiden)

Set Designer: Josh Adrian
Costume Designer: Daria Tavana
Lighting Designer: Taylor Riccio
Sounds Designer: Dan Acampa
Assistant Costumer Designer: Clair Meyer
Assistant Stage Manager: Jane DiBartolo
Board Operator: Madeleine Carr
Production Assistant: Kelly Teaford
Stage Managers: Tyler Winthrop
Production Manager: Steven Kreager
Co-Producers: Daria Tavana and Anni Weisband

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