RELAX. It's all going to make sense. Promise.
Andrew Bovell's "Speaking in Tongues" is part relationship drama, part missing-persons mystery and part formal experiment. Tales of betrayal, disappointment and reconciliation emerge in fragments, told from multiple perspectives -- in occasionally overlapping dialogue. The story is there for the taking, but you have to work for it. To stay alert. To make the pieces fit.
Fear not: The "Tongues" design team, under the leadership of director Lou Jacob, has done its part to keep the audience in the game. James Kronzer's revolving set -- transformed from scene to scene by the saturated colors of Daniel MacLean Wagner's lighting -- echoes the script's shifting perspectives on common ground. And Neil McFadden's sound design provides a subtle thread of continuity.
The play opens with two couples dancing an adulterous tango to a rhythm that will recur intermittently throughout Act One. "Our biggest goal was to try to unify everything that was going on so that you get across the idea that, yes, this is all connected somehow. It's not just random stories," McFadden explains.
Having offered the audience a musical road map through Act 1, McFadden's soundscape takes a slightly more abstract turn after the intermission. An echoing shard of melody, hummed by a woman stranded on a dark road and underscored by drones and pulses, establishes the sonic palate of Act 2. "Act 1 is kind of the sexier act, and Act 2 is slightly more existential/dreamy," McFadden agrees. "It's a chicken-and-egg kind of thing: Did we decide that [the second act] was more dreamy so we went that way? Or did the production start going that way so we followed it with the sound? Honestly, I can't say for certain."
For sure, the jagged structure of the play's narrative had to be respected in the sound design. "You want to try and stylistically stay with what the playwright has given you," he says. "I wouldn't read [the script] and go, 'Hmm . . . I think I'll use some Beethoven.' You want something that's very contemporary and a little edgy."
McFadden's challenge, then, was in balancing the audience's need for narrative guideposts and the script's demand for tension and mystery. Assessing the finished product, McFadden opines: "[Our solution] kind of works because, at least for us, it falls into the world of 'abstract, but not too abstract.' "