Indulge me in a little armchair exercise. If you happen to be reading this while sitting in a coffee shop or atop a bar stool (or even in a row of cubicles during lunch break), I ask that you take leave of this page ever so briefly to instead take a look around you.
See that altogether unmemorable chap hunched over his IPA? He may very well be a witness to what the long lost love of your life was up to last Friday night. Or what about that innocuous patron zoned out over her iPhone at Table 3? She may have heard your grandmother's parting words.
And here's the rub of it all: You'll probably never know. While there is infinite possibility that the people in your own line of sight possess crucial knowledge of something deeply meaningful to you, chances are your paths won't properly intersect to bring it to light.
In the achingly random, yet cleverly buoyant terrain of playwright Steven Dietz's This Random World, the only thing more confounding than the constraints of our closest connections are the myriad unwitting misconnections that are forever just shy of our grasp. By this I mean those almost-moments that could have soothed our souls, but simply eluded us. We are left instead to manage all this bothersome quiet desperation solo. And, to make matters more vexing still, we likely didn't even know we had missed them. It really comes down to happenstance, after all.
As comically fun as it is philosophically canny, PURE Theatre's deceptively spare new production directed by Sharon Graci lays bare those failed encounters that render much of our lives nothing more than the murky runoff of serendipity. To do so, This Random World features about a half dozen actors who in this production come mainly from PURE's core ensemble, and who together animate the poignant, pithy life of the play.
The action spirals out from the three members of the Ward family: an aging mother Scottie and two grown children, her "type A" daughter Beth and a seemingly talented, hapless son Tim. The Wards are each linked with other people through life and love. They are Tim's high school sweetheart, Claire; Claire's current boyfriend Gary; and Scottie's aide Bernadette and her sister Rhonda. Together, these family members, friends, and other bystanders possess the potential to interrelate, cozying up to one another near and far in unexpected locales.
If only they knew they were doing so. In the audience, we see that these intertwined souls are within spitting distance from one another — a mere one degree of separation from an exchange that would likely lend greatly to their emotional and spiritual wellbeing. However, we must sit mutely on the sidelines watching their near misses and numerous missteps.
Along the way, PURE's masterful cast does much to keep us rooting for those increasingly unlikely connections. As Scottie, Joy Vandervort-Cobb is a majestic matriarch, reigning resplendent as she waxes about distant lands and barks commands at her aides. As her daughter, Beth, the radiant Tonya Smalls Williams inflects the character's fastidiousness with warmth and quirk — a perfect foil for her slacker (and sometimes hacker) brother Tim, who is played with charismatic ease and all-around likability by Joel Watson.
Similarly, Sullivan Hamilton offers up an offbeat, pull-no-punches Claire that is a pleasure to watch, and Scott Pattison brings commanding comic timing to his portrayal of the romantically addled, ever-searching Gary. Camille Lowman rounds out the cast, giving us a peevish, putout Bernadette as well as her flaky, fomenting sister Rhonda with healthy dollops of humor and affect.
The actors also serve as the human cogs in the machine propelling Richard Heffner's ingenious set, which is comprised of a series of wheeled, rectangular steel carriages. Under the ruminative connective thread of Miles Boinest's sound design, the actors reset each scene by way of quiet choreography, subtly sliding the set pieces into new configurations, sometimes lined up against the back, sometimes angled outward. Similarly, Janine Marie McCabe's costumes hew mainly to muted shades of gray and tan, but for a pop of orange in the form of a neon trainer or an umbrella or the like.
For all its thought and depth, This Random World is sufficiently droll and amiable to go down easy. Both probing and playful, the work trades in its unbearable lightness, deploying well-honed wit to reveal how our lives frequently end, not with a bang but a whimper — and a wry and rueful whimper at that.
In the capable hands of Dietz, and with PURE's stylized, soulful production, we leave the theater having gained a broader view of those misconnections from our black box perch. What's more, there's the salve of knowing that the information we all so crave actually may be kicking around out there somewhere, even if it is forever sitting silently beside us.