'Let X': Integral Inventiveness
Monday, May 1, 2006
Put on your math caps:
Let X equal a play self-consciously taking itself apart before an audience as it continually redefines its terms of reality. Say that the play is about a playwright writing a play about a playwright, and the playwrights aggressively jockey for stewardship of the play as they both try to win the girl. Solve for a review. Show your work.
"Let X" is an agreeable Pirandellian doodle by Gwydion Suilebhan, 70 minutes' worth of madcap reality-bending on the tiny Mead Theatre Lab stage at Flashpoint. The Mead is a small room, and director Lise Bruneau makes no pretense of creating a formal backstage area in her nimble production for the Taffety Punk Theatre Company. Actors fly in and out of the room's two doors, a surly character called the Stagehand occasionally emerges from what looks like a cinder block electrical closet, and characters are even whisked back to the tech booth to watch an alternative version of events.
Suilebhan's compulsive puzzle-making inevitably threatens to get the better of him now and then, but the antics are nicely held together by a charming central core: a love story, with witty riffs on theater.
The title character -- a train conductor and wannabe playwright -- is actually called X because, well, he's variable, with his fate to be determined. Marcus Kyd plays X with the right note of casual perplexity, pushing at the confines of his world like a bright student who's just beginning to really get how this brand of calculus works.
It's new math, all right, but Suilebhan's pretty good at keeping the audience up to speed. As X addresses the audience and begins to describe how he first met Lily (the play's mathematically gifted love interest, fetchingly played by Kimberly Gilbert), she scolds him. "Don't be sloppy," she says. "Show your work."
That cues a reenactment of their lusty meeting on a train platform, as trains figure prominently as things that move in a straight line -- a pointed contrast to the curlicue patterns of Suilebhan's narrative. But even reenactments can be rewritten, and X begins authoring new drafts over the objections of the Playwright (Christopher Marino, a laughably hip and insecure figure in a goatee and rose-tinted sunglasses).
And as the story turns into a quirky romantic triangle, what becomes of Max and Christine, the swank couple who were waiting with Lily for a play to begin at the beginning of the play? (It's a funhouse-mirror start: The programs they hold are for "Let X.") With the playwrights otherwise engaged, Max and Christine become two characters in search of an author, and their existential confusion is amusingly rendered by John Lescault and Anna Kepe.
The confident cast -- surprisingly, five-sixths of the group are Actors' Equity members -- helps keep Suilebhan's whimsies buoyant. Kyd's laid-back intensity and Lescault's suave superiority (which gets thoroughly eroded) are particular standouts, and Lynn McNutt gets laughs as the weary Stagehand grunting truisms about the theater and impossibilities about her résumé.
At no point does Bruneau's bare-bones production overreach. Instead, it works Suilebhan's twisted problem and makes it all add up.
Let X, by Gwydion Suilebhan. Directed by Lise Bruneau. About 70 minutes. Set design, Beth Baldwin; lights, Emily Lagerquist; costumes, Scott Hammar; sound design, Sean Peoples; props, Jennifer Sheetz. Through May 7 at Flashpoint's Mead Theatre Lab, 916 G St. NW. Call 202-261-6612 or visit http:/