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Reel to Reel Preview

Listening to life

Address: 2 Marin Blvd, Fort Mason, Bldg, 2, 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94123
Phone: 415-441-8822

"Reel to Reel" — Sights and Sounds of a Marriage

(Clockwise from left) Will Marchetti as Walter at age 82, Zoë Winters as younger Maggie, Carla Spindt as Maggie at 82 and Andrew Pastides as younger Walter.

Review by Judith M. Wilson
Photos by Julie Haber

A dripping tap sparks a memory, and it’s a recollection that just two people can share, because they’re the only ones who experienced it. No one can really know what’s inside someone else’s marriage, and that’s at the heart of Reel to Reel, which is in its debut run at Fort Mason’s Magic Theatre, as it employs sound to define one particular marriage and shows how powerful a medium sound can be. Playwright and director John Kolvenbach uses more than 100 sounds in Reel to Reel, from a repeatedly ringing telephone that punctuates an argument to sound effects, such as the ringing of a cash register and spinning of a ratchet wrench, that put scenes into context and help to explain them. Even silence is meaningful.

Carla Spindt and Will Marchetti play Maggie and Walter at the age of 82, when they’ve been married for 55 years and three months—give or take. Zoë Winters and Andrew Pastides play the same characters at the ages of 27, when they first meet, and 42, when they’re 15 years into the relationship. Both couples have played across from each other in different roles, and so, “We’ve got history among both sets of actors,” says Kolvenbach. In addition, he adds, the two couples look somewhat alike, but that was just luck and not contrived. The result is a kind of chemistry that makes the characters comfortable with each other, and so their actions and reactions ring true in nuanced performances, as the collage of a marriage takes shape, giving a sense of the union rather than a narrative history.

Ironically, although traditional telephones and mobile phones both make appearances, the play requires a depth of attention that modern communication often doesn’t. The scenes aren’t in chronological order, so it takes seeing the big picture of the entire play, as the various pieces come together, to make the most of it and appreciate its artistry. It's in good hands, however, with a small but skillful cast of actors who are more than up to the task of holding the audience’s attention with finely-tuned performances that reveal the essence of their characters over time.

Details also count, from Maggie’s reel-to-reel recording equipment, which endures over time, to Walter’s bathrobe, which demonstrates how life and priorities change as one ages, while the need for human connection continues. Even the sound of a sigh carries meaning, as dramatic events and the simple banter that is part of the ebb and flow of everyday life both come into play. It’s a creative telling of the story of a marriage with smart dialog and the inventive use of sound, and giving it your undivided attention is worth the effort.

Reel to Reel is 80 minutes, with no intermission, and it runs through Sunday, February 25. Performances are at 7 p.m. on Tuesday; 8 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.  The Magic Theatre is located in Building 2, third floor, Fort Mason, 2 Marina Blvd., San Francisco.

For tickets and more information, go to www.magictheatre.org or call 415-441-8822.



Listening to Life

By Judith M. Wilson

Marriage is like a crazy quilt. It’s a miscellany of experiences, conversations, emotions and adventures, and somehow, miraculously, the disparate pieces come together to make one cohesive whole. An outsider can only see what’s on the outside of a quilt, and, similarly, one can never really observe the intimate details or detect the nuances inside someone else’s marriage. It takes being part of its creation for one to truly understand and appreciate it.

Playwright John Kolvenbach gives us a sense of what one particular marriage might be like by telling the inside story of a 55-year union in Reel to Reel, his new play, which has its premiere at the Magic Theatre on Wednesday, February 7, 2018. It follows Walter and Maggie over the years of their long marriage, with Andrew Pastides and Zoë Winters portraying the pair at the ages of 27 and 42, and Will Marchetti and Carla Spindt playing the same characters at 82. Both couples have played across from each other in different roles and have a history. As a result, says Kolvenbach, “They start to pick up little pieces of each other,” much as married couples do. Recorded conversations, arguments and everyday household sounds are part of the mix, which is a collage of the relationship through the years.

Kolvenbach was intrigued by the notion of the unknowable quality of someone else’s marriage and fascinated by the relationship between memory and sound. And he explores those ideas in a play about intimacy that whispers in the ear of the audience, using sound in every way he could. “It conveys intimacy as much as every other sense,” he says. Music, Foley (the reproduction of everyday sounds effects usually used in film), poetry and dialog all come into play, as the actors make all kind of sounds—more than 100—in a creative way to create a collage of love, aging, life and death. “It’s sort of a 3D radio,” he says.

As director as well as playwright, Kolvenbach, who is also the author of Goldfish, Mrs. Whitney, Love Song, on an average day, Gizmo Love, Fabuloso, Bank Job, and Marriage Play (or Half ’n Half ’n Half) had to tackle two different roles that have the potential to be at odds. As a dramatist, “You have a picture of the whole play in your head. When you’re writing you can watch the whole thing in your mind,” he says. A director, however, has to avoid preconceived ideas and give the actors the freedom to find and interpret their characters. “You have to let the actors make discoveries that aren’t on the page,” he says, so letting go is part of the process. The reward lies in taking the play from its beginning as the seed of an idea to seeing it fully realized on stage. “You get to take it all the way through. I love it,” he says

Kolvenbach says he wrote the play with the Magic Theatre in mind, first because artistic director Loretta Greco is a great theater executive. This is his fourth collaboration with Greco and the Magic Theatre. And second, it has an environment that allows theatricality. “You can see and hear every syllable,” he says.

He adds that the play is intricate and goes back and forth in time and in and out of realities, and as such, it requires the audience’s complete attention. ”It’s a leap of faith,” he says, explaining that it is intimate and also requires a long attention span, which is the opposite of what people experience today with cell phones. He believes it’s worth the effort. “Modern life can be depleting,” he says. “Politics has left us in a very shallow place.” He observes that one can write about the either problem or the antidote, and he’s chosen the latter. He describes Reel to Reel as an exercise in empathy, something that might be in short supply these days, but is uplifting when we find it.