Steven Dietz's play This Random World takes on one of the biggest questions of human life: Are our paths predetermined, or dictated by the connections we make or miss? What direction would our lives have taken if we'd stayed one moment longer and met someone new or left one moment sooner and missed meeting a person who changes us?
The play, hitting PURE Theatre's stage this Thursday, involves seven different characters whose lives intersect, or don't quite connect, or dance just around each other. Their stories are all different, but they are, for the most part hilarious — and often poignant.
"It's best to sum This Random World up in this phrase: The inevitability of encounter," says PURE's artistic director and the director of this production, Sharon Graci. "Steven Dietz has managed to capture a topic that I'm absolutely fascinated by, which is how we move through time and space in our lives to that moment of intersection. This play examines intersections that last moments, that don't happen at all, that last a short period of time and intersections that last a lifetime."
It sounds like a theme that would typically be played for high drama or tragedy rather than comedy, but it's genuinely funny, particularly in a memorable physical comedy moment when a character is trying to box up her leftovers after being dumped in a diner, and Graci says it's just the right play for PURE's underlying mission.
"It's about keeping our promise as a company: That you'll always leave the theater with something to talk about," she says. "You will absolutely leave this theater considering the myriad of ways that you encounter people. This is a play where I have no doubt that as the audience watches this story unfold, there will be moments where they audibly react to what they've seen, because the character has made the connection, or they just missed it. What you have is an audience that becomes cheerleaders for the possibility of the encounters in these characters' lives. And they root for them to make these connections."
Though there are some set-piece moments, Graci says the main comedy in This Random World ultimately comes from the sheer relatability of the characters who are ping-ponging into, around, or away from one another.
"It's funny in a way that human beings are funny," she says. "They're quirky and they're strange and they're witty, and they are walking contradictions. All of those traits, when you blend them together, are super-recognizable and enjoyable for an audience."
The original play is set in 12 different locations, from Japan to the aforementioned crummy diner, which is more or less impossible for a black-box theater production. So the physical plotting is just as intricate as the storylines; the characters have to weave around one another like dancers to keep the stories moving.
"We were challenged by the fact that we're a black box," Graci says. "There's a lot of movement. So it's not at all a realistic set. It's heavily designed to be minimal. It concentrates heavily on what PURE Theatre excels at, which is excellence in acting and direct ing. It's really a spotlight for our work in that sense of the word."
It's also a full-ensemble piece, with every role but one being filled by PURE's own company. And since the plot can be a bit dizzying, Graci says that it's imperative that the characters be relatable.
"The cast is bringing their best traits as actors: accessibility and openness," she says. "These are smart actors who are not afraid to be vulnerable, and that vulnerability is what makes them likable for an audience. There's a great deal of trust and respect in this company, so there's a shorthand in the way we interact with each other as artists. Those are some of the benefits of being an ensemble: You come in with a set of high expectations, an accountability that you hold one another to, and a trust that everyone is doing their share of heavy lifting to make each and every rehearsal and performance the best day of acting they've ever experienced. That's what makes an ensemble work."
As Graci mentioned, the goal of PURE is to make sure the audience leaves with something to talk about. So what does she think they'll be talking about when they leave This Random World?
"I hope they realize how remarkable it is to find themselves in the same space and time with another human being," she says. "And that we may have those random chance encounters more then we have in the past. You have travelled a lifetime to cross paths with a stranger, possibly to see or never see them again. Maybe it's the only moment you have in that person's presence. That's a beautiful concept to consider."