Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Theatre review: Clutter at Theatre NOVA

The world premier of Clutter, the debut play from Detroiter Brian Cox, is currently in production at Theatre NOVA in Ann Arbor. In the play a man known as Me (Phil Powers) interrogates his past and attempts to understand his failed marriage. He does so with the help of Woman (Tory Matsos) and Sir (Artun Kircali). Using Sir as a stand in for his younger self and Woman as a proxy for his wife, Me reminisces on his past failures as a husband and attempts to correct them. If you want to avoid spoilers, don't read the next paragraphs.

Clutter opens with Me attempting to find something important on his cluttered desk. He kvetches about the nature of clutter and his perennial inability to keep things tidy. This is pretty humorous and earned some good laughs from the audience. It turns out Me is overly sentimental and has kept artifacts to remind himself of his greatest failings as a husband. As he uncovers receipts, old theater tickets, and expired calendars, he travels back to the memories those objects anchor. He eventually pulls Woman from the audience to be the stand in for his wife. I think it's worth noting that in a play with good acting, Tory Matsos' really stood out. I knew she was an audience plant, but doubted it for a brief second. Mastos did such a convincing job portraying a reluctant audience member she had me second guessing myself.

After recreating some moments from his past with Woman, Me decides he needs a proxy for his past self, so he pulls Sir from the audience. Sir comes off as a bit of a bro who thinks very highly of himself. It works for the character. As Clutter progresses, it becomes clear that Me was a pretty self centered husband who was never really able to imagine that his wife's emotions were different than his own. The mood gets darker and the play ends with a gut punch that felt a little unearned. Overall, I liked Clutter. It's an ambitious attempt to tell a story in a non-traditional way. Phil Powers did a great job portraying Me's toxic nostalgia and deep regret for his past. There were some spots where it felt like the script could have been tightened up a bit. Woman and Sir are sometimes naive audience members and at other times omniscient about Me's past. Most of the time this worked out in the play, but other times the transition felt a little awkward. Also, the Clutter relies on a semi-permeable 4th wall, and again, it's not always clear when the wall is there. These issues were minor and didn't take away from the wonderful acting in the play.

Clutter is a tight 90 minutes with no intermission. It runs through April 16th with shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings as well as Sunday afternoons. Tickets are $20 though pay-what-you-can tickets are available as well.

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