the side project. By Mary Hamilton. Directed by Josh Sobel. With Stevie Chaddock, Ann James, Andy Luther, Adam Shalzi. Running time: 1hr 15mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kevin Thomas
What happened when Grace saw the girl go under the ice?
We Three, at the side project, takes a simple question and builds a complicated mystery. Grace (Ann James) insists she saw a young girl fall through the frozen river late one night. Her small town doubts the old woman when they fail to find a body. Meanwhile, her quiet neighbor Dustin (Adam Shalzi) may know something, but isn’t talking, and his hypochondriac friend Daisy (Stevie Chaddock) is becoming intrigued by the ambiguity of it all. As time goes on, more people insist they saw the unknown girl around town. They’re certain she was there. And now they’ll need a story to satisfy her disappearance.
The mystery of the play isn’t what happened, but what’s happening. Mary Hamilton’s eerie, slow-burn script presents any number of threads to follow as it unfolds—is this a ghost story? A psychological thriller? A whodunit? Or just the story of three lonely, strange people? The uncertainty is held together by an ironclad structure, where scene configurations take place in precisely the same sequence throughout the show (Dustin and Daisy, Grace at home, Daisy at the doctor, Dustin at Grace’s home, Dustin and Daisy, Grace at Home...and so on). Like a metronome, We Three steadily ticks away while inviting rampant speculation aided by a few creepy twists. The repeating scenes, while sometimes contributing to the show’s snail's pace, also make its ideas and strange implications accessible—something often not true of plays this cold—and propel a story that purposefully grants no implicit direction.
Unusually for the side project, the atmosphere of the play isn’t perfect. Director Josh Sobel has his actors keep statue-still and speak in muted tones to match the environment, but the result is near-monotone. The cast feels intensely constrained, and in an already claustrophobic play a few strong emotions would’ve been welcome. There’s no question We Three is a production to think about rather than feel in. But if the performances are sometimes colorless, the characters are still fascinating in relationship to each other. As they each experience things they can’t explain, self-doubt cuts them off from one another. One moment of confusion, and they don’t know who they can trust. And worst of all, they each seem to have reasons to believe they’re better than the other two.
The side project opened We Three alongside Jet Black Chevrolet, both brooding, dark plays with ambiguous purpose. Yet We Three is the piece that triumphs where Jet Black Chevrolet descends into confusion. Hamilton finds weirdness and shadows from within and times her leap into insanity just right. A single burst of the unexplainable ties the play together while leaving everything possible, and I found myself discussing the ending long after walking out.