One of the great pleasures of interviewing people who love their work is watching how talking about what they care about transforms them. This is sort of what Adam Bock's one-act The Typographer's Dream is about, but then it turns out to be about a lot of other things too, such as friendship and honesty. And, of course, Canada. Because all the best plays are really about Canada, eh?
Encore Theatre Company ran Dream at San Francisco's Thick House last year, where the Chronicle named it one of 2005's "Top Ten Theater Events in the Bay Area." And no wonder: It's smart, offbeat, and hilarious, charming without being schmaltzy. Happily, Encore decided to bring it home to the Shotgun Players, who have been staunch Bock supporters for years, producing his Swimming in the Shallows and The Fairy's Tail while he was a company member.
Even more happily, Encore brought over the original director and all the original actors too. Aimée Guillot, Jamie Jones, and Michael Shipley play three people a typographer, a geographer, and a stenographer who love their work, if not necessarily their jobs. Ranged along a long table facing the audience, they might be giving a Career Day presentation, but their careful patter rapidly breaks down as their relationships come to the fore. A space painted black and skeletally marked with white tape to indicate furniture, stairs, and doorways becomes a crucible under Anne Kauffman's sure-footed direction.
Margaret describes how the printed word is breath made solid. Annalise wonders why Poland is always colored yellow on maps and bustles on- and offstage to find visual aids. Dave proudly, tenderly shows off his StenoCAT machine, and admits that he prefers "court reporter" to "stenographer" because the first sounds "more glamorous." Or, as he intones, "Being a court reporter is a privilege, not a right." You can't help but love them for their devotion to something; even the one who hates the workplace still loves the idea of the work, the promise of being able to change how people feel, how the world itself works.
East Bay audiences are probably most likely to recognize Guillot, who played the ditzy sister in the Berkeley Rep's Big Love a few years back and the Loud Stone in 2004's Eurydice. Once again she's funny seemingly despite herself; nearly going over the handlebars of her bike as she makes her entrance, her Margaret is a rolling, crashing mess in love with the word "frickin'." Bock takes his sweet time telling us what her problem is, but she clearly has one, and it makes her snappish and volatile. There's a gorgeous, potent moment of tension after Margaret has lost her shit near the end when she and Annalise lock eyes and you remember why live theater is special, the audience breathing in time with the combatants.
Jamie Jones is an absolute stitch. Playing a sinuously drunk Annalise, she tells Dave that her critical nature is a blessing and a curse "a blessing for me, a curse for everyone else," before breaking unexpectedly into what appears to be the '60s go-go dance the Monkey. Almost prim at first, Annalise is the most surprising of the three. Geography is "a dangerous science," she confides. "Maybe that's why they hid it in social studies ... geographers are impolitic, we chronicle consequences."
But the consequences of something Annalise has said to Dave are the pin on which Michael Shipley's character turns. Precise and bright-eyed, Dave is about to melt into his job and his relationship, perhaps never to be seen again. "I've been putting myself over there," he muses in an unguarded moment. "Where have I been this whole time?" Shipley speaks volumes with subtle eye and hand movements, justifying the intimate confines of the former church the Shotgunners call home.
You just want to roll around in Bock's language, where words like "cedilla" become exotic gems, and repetition, syncopation, and judicious puns reward the listener. While this work is more realistic than earlier Bock pieces we've seen in the East Bay nobody goes on a date with a shark here, or has his or her family smushed by a giant's foot the playwright's whimsy and freshness still shines through. Faintly reminiscent of Errol Morris's 1997 documentary Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, where four men who love their quirky work try to explain why, The Typographer's Dream at the Ashby Stage is a sheer delight of pauses, twitches, and surprising insights.
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