Like the famous Hindu image of a thousand faces, our lives often seem to blend together into pieces of someone else’s life. Perhaps this explains the mass commercial frenzy that feeds off our penchant for voyeurism and reality TV. In Conundrum Prods.’ world premiere of Scott Gibson’s “Someone Else’s Life,” we observe five distinct approaches to this ancient enigma of the one and the many, while the quintet onstage observes each other and themselves.
Director Jim Hunt shows why he’s a mainstay in shaping local new work, developing the camaraderie and trust of his players and using it to create viable connections and palpable conflict.
Among the pines and the peaks sits a rustic resort where Rose (Susan D’Autremont) and Alan (John Samson) have made their annual summer pilgrimage to relax, reflect and re-create. For Rose, it is an opportunity to indulge her artistic yearnings — drawing one year, attempting to write a novel the next — looking for clues as to the meaning of her life.
Rose’s busy mornings begin with two lattes, pastries, the New York Times and small talk with Alan, followed by her watercolors, her journal and her insatiable interest in other people’s lives. D’Autremont paints a bright picture that contrasts sharply with the seething emotional fury she releases in controlled bursts whenever Alan makes a plea for more meaningful conversation and intimacy.
Alan shares his wife’s interest in the forces that have brought him and his temporary neighbors to their present circumstances. Samson, though, shows Alan to be more circumspect than Rose, drawing out his juniors with a blend of fact and fiction derived from his experience, his thirst for adventure and his desire for connectedness, rather than snooping and spying on them as Rose does. Samson’s Alan is a kind-hearted soul who meanders around the point to soften the blow, but delivers the coup de grace when the time comes.
Into Rose and Alan’s murky idyll stumbles Amy (Susan Scott), who has marched five miles up the road from the bus stop in a bridesmaid’s dress and heels. Her hair strewn with leaves, her feet worn with blisters, her handbag filled with a wad of currency, Amy is ready to seize the chance to make the most of her “one wild and precious life,” as Gibson puts it in his notes.
Scott’s Amy is part itinerant wanderer, part seeker; she’s been driven in horror from her sister’s wedding by the crassness of the ceremony and the fear that such confinement will be hers if she stays. Instead, she follows a vision of rural simplicity derived from a Norman Rockwell image on a calendar at work. Amy brims with confidence as she methodically plans her escape, yet exposes her vulnerability and confesses her sins when Alan reveals he’s got her number.
Brothers Matthew (Jono Waldman) and Daniel (Jake Mechling) are, like Amy, refugees from a dysfunctional familial cocoon. Waldman has a field day with the irrepressible Matthew, for whom life is a Bacchanalian feast. Whether stumbling out of his room in the aftermath of Daniel’s ill-timed coitus interruptus or staggering back to the cabin after an evening’s reverie, Waldman freely shares Matthew’s infinite delight in life’s sensual pleasures. When Amy surgically dissects his motives, we get the feeling Matthew’s honor is truly threatened.
On the other end of the chromatic scale is Mechling’s Daniel, a sour, impatient youth for whom the slightest human encounter is painful. Mechling holds Daniel’s feelings of displacement like a dark secret. Never abandoning his arid bubble, Mechling delivers the play’s final line with impeccable comedic timing and leaves us wondering whether Daniel will step out of his self-imposed chains.
Gibson’s work professes nothing more than to ask questions about our lives. He builds the stakes without the gratuitous, heavy-handed devices that seem to be the modus operandi these days, relying instead on the hidden and unspoken.
His early work with thrillers and mysteries shows through in the subtle clues that form this story’s drama in this story.
If anything, “Someone Else’s Life” is Chekhov light. Minus a loaded gun for gravity, Gibson’s petit bourgeois, like the self-obsessed gentry before the fall of the czar, have no time for the global crises that loom outside their romantic setting. Indeed, only Alan (like Astrov in “Uncle Vanya”) seems the least bit interested in nature — and, like an audience from “Three Sisters,” we exit asking ourselves whether we will ever get it together and go to Moscow in search of our dreams.