Written by Ellen Maddow
Directed by Paul Zimet
Set Design by Anna Kiraly
Music by “Blue” Gene Tyranny
Costumes by Kiki Smith
Lights by Nan Zhang
Puppets by Ralph Lee
Sound and Video Realization by David Wiggall
Stage Manager Denise Cardarelli
With: Will Badgett, David Brooks, John Hellweg, Sue Jean Kim, Heidi Schreck, and Tina Shepard
2008: September 26 – October 19, Connelly Theatre, NYC
A comedy of longing, misperceptions, and mismatches, two sets of characters occupy two different worlds. The inhabitants of Drizzle Plaza – a bleak and empty place, like a city where everyone has gone on vacation – are drowning in the seductive power of infatuation, yearning, and regret. Meanwhile, on the flip side, is the Waterfall family in a world of constant motion and relentless cheerfulness with a dose of claustrophobia. And then the worlds being to mingle.
Flip Side is the product of an unconventional collaboration, inverting the traditional creative process by designing a set first and then writing the play inspired by the visual/physical environment.
Flip Side is a whimsical, wise, theatrical meditation on longing, and its close siblings greed, envy, and entitlement. This new piece from The Talking Band is full of surprises and features perhaps the most effective use of computer video (some of it right on the MacBook screen!) that I’ve ever encountered on stage. And Ellen Maddow’s script is full of profound and gloriously elegantly poetry that frequently flies by too quickly to properly savor.
There’s genuine profundity in this play, which somehow is augmented rather than diminished by Paul Zimet’s authentically and delightfully playful production. Six actors portray all of the characters in both worlds (Tina Shepard, for example, portrays both Sylvia Waterfall and her “rival,” Marilyn Flynnalyn). Clever costuming and dazzling video design facilitate the double-casting, the one making it easy for us to know who’s who and the other providing a wondrous way for characters to see and/or talk to one another without having to actually clone anyone. I don’t want to give too much away about Anna Kiraly’s remarkable video and set design, but let me repeat that it’s the most dexterous use of multimedia I’ve ever come across. There are some moments that just take the breath away, they’re so beautiful and simple and elegant.
Shepard, one of The Talking Band’s three co-founders (with Maddow and Zimet), is joined on stage by five exceptional collaborators—Will Badgett, David Brooks, John Hellweg, Sue Jean Kim, and Heidi Schreck. All of them create characters with intelligence and brio to spare. There are also a couple of witty puppets used in the piece (courtesy of Ralph Lee), and lots of recorded music composed by “Blue” Gene Tyranny and sung by the Smith College Smithereens and Kim Gambino. Zimet blends all the elements into a cohesive whole that startles, charms, and engages us throughout.
One of my favorite things about Flip Side is that, notwithstanding its Lewis Carroll-ish made-up settings, its characters talk about going to real places like New York City and Las Vegas. That’s because the two “Sides” of this play are states of mind and the boundary between them is mental rather than physical. We’ve all lived in Drizzle Plaza or The Waterfalls sometime during our lives; perhaps we’ve lived in both at the same time. As soon as we erect that barrier between the two we make it insurmountable; this is a play about balance and moderation, in our needs and wants as well as our daily habits. Which makes it surprisingly resonant and timely in this hectic age of ours.
– Martin Denton, NYTheatre.com
For all its yearning, “Flip Side” plays like a romp. Tough questions about personal identity are wrapped in visual wit and endearing performances, making the show, from avant-garde staples the Talking Band, a light entertainment that rewards closer inspection.
Playwright Ellen Maddow developed her text around Anna Kiraly’s set and video designs, which resulted in a strikingly physical script. Actors define their surroundings, whether by rearranging cloth-covered panels or spinning laptops that show pictures of their own faces.
And those laptop faces are key. When Sylvia Waterfall (Tina Shepard) puts her electronic visage in front of her real one, she’s showing us how she appears to Alan Flynnalyn (John Hellweg), an old classmate she IMs every day. We’re asked to consider how she changes when she’s “seen” through a computer instead of in the real world.
All the characters worry about seeing and being seen, and what that does to their lives. Even the play’s landscape is structured around facing communities: The Waterfalls live in a fast, crowded world, where everyone buzzes with energy, while the Flynnalyns live in Drizzle Plaza, a gray place where not much happens.
No matter where they live, characters dream about the people on the other side, peeking at them through binoculars or comically thick glasses. Eventually, people start visiting their neighbors, and the consequences range from transcendent to incredibly sad.
This could be a quirky fable, but Maddow pushes the connection between the Waterfalls and the folks in Drizzle Plaza. It’s obvious, for instance, that both places are made from the same set pieces, and the actors all play one character from each realm.
Thesps master tonal shifts and multiple roles. Shepard gives Marilyn spunk as she hunts the woman who might steal her husband, and just moments later, she makes Sylvia’s loneliness palpable.
Director (and Talking Band a.d.) Paul Zimet tightly controls the transitions between worlds, and he knows when to focus on the design.
“Blue” Gene Tyranny’s score creates a context for each new setting. Some of his music is a melancholy wash of synthesizers, and some is an anxious burst of drums. But all of it is strange and beautiful, just like the play.
– Mark Blankenship, Variety