Fun Inside-Out

March 26, 2011

In performances of Inside Out in the Loeb Ex this March, Chris Gummerson’s quirky assemblage of characters swept audiences away from the anxiety of the fast-paced, technology-driven world and into the adventure and misadventure of the Alaskan wilderness.  The one-act play centers around Charlie Hart (Phil Gillen ’13), an overextended employee for a telecom company that places him and his co-worker Jillian (Valeriya Tsitron ’14) in an absurd training program to keep up with the competition.  Try as he might, Charlie finds himself smothered to the brink of insanity by the mounting pile of tasks before him.  After an unusual encounter on the subway with the quirky Imogen (also Valeriya Tsitron) Charlie jumps at the chance to leave his meaningless work behind and connect with nature and himself.  What he finds in Alaska, however, appears to be merely a different breed of insanity (complete with a full-body moose costume and a flashy rave to the music of Abba).  In the end, Charlie comes face-to-face with his inner struggle in a Fight Club-esque twist, but is saved by the power of real human connection.

The strength of Inside Out lies in the pertinence of its message and its people, both the characters crafted by author and director Gummerson (’12) and the actors who portrayed them.  The show uses five actors, all of whom, save Gillen, play multiple roles.  The use of so few actors keeps the experience intimate and the focus on the message at hand, rather than the actors on stage.  The talent of the actors, however, is not to be understated.  Gillen and Tsitron, at the heart of the show, brought realism and insanity to their characters with equal poignancy.  Tsitron was particularly impressive in her ability to switch seamlessly from over-achiever Jillian to fantastical Imogen in record-time costume changes, while Gillen’s soul searching was a beautiful thread of consistency that held the audience fast through the show’s many twists and turns.

While the advantages of using a small cast for this show are apparent, the doubling-up of nearly all the actors meant that the characters were quite unequally developed.  Some, like the loopy Alaskan guide (Brianne Holland-Stergar ’13) and the strict “Mr. Ess” (Jamie Danner ’12), were strong and brought many laughs, while others, some played by these same actors, were mild and forgettable.  The high character to actor ratio also put the show at risk for the trap of Harvard’s small theatre community, where the audience sees the actor and not the character.  However, all the actors proved their versatility and succeeded in bringing to life the show’s varied misfits.

The eccentricities of the characters were mirrored by the technical elements of the show.  The minimalist set served the same function as the small number of actors, keeping the audience focused on the bigger picture without unnecessary distractions.  The lighting design, by Elizabeth Mak ’12, worked with the empty space to create a whimsical world that bounced between the glare of an oppressive office, the Northern lights, and an underwater fantasy.  One of the subtle gems of this show was its sound production (also designed by Gummerson, with Matt Stone ’11 serving as her sound advisor).  The show’s quirkiest moments are accentuated by bits like the theme from jeopardy, the startup sound of a MacBook, and Abba songs.  The genius of the sound design lay in these subtle, humorous reminders of the audience’s own world.

While the show’s message applies to a broad audience, certain moments, like the all-too-familiar Hulu voiceover emitting from Charlie’s laptop when he is supposed to be working, identify Inside Out as a show written by and for the Harvard student.  Gummerson tells us that we do not have to conform to an outwardly and narrowly defined vision of success, despite the pressure.  While we may not be able to take off for the Alaskan wilderness, we can let our hair down and dance crazily to a song that’s always been a guilty pleasure.  Inside Out claims to be “a show that’s about busting out and having fun,” and it is a much-needed reminder that that is exactly what we need to do.

The Harvard Art Review Theatre Board

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