This, once again, won't be anything resembling a proper review as the company of Brandywine Distillery Fire is full of old friends and collaborators and is therefore going to be biased. Bias or no bias, I do think my friends are more talented and interesting than other people, which may have something to do with them being my friends in the first place. But I think I'm right about this, so we'll all just go along and agree for the purposes of this particular blog post that my friends tend to be more talented than other people. Sadly, I realize this (possibly unfortunate) paragraph might invalidate any opinions I hold vis a vis Brandywine Distillery Fire. That is something we all will just have to live with.
When I was in playwrighting school, one of my instructors had us tape our family's conversations at Thanksgiving dinner and then transcribe them as accurately as possible. This turned out to be very interesting as everyone's transcriptions were complete gibberish. No one makes any sense or listens to anyone else, not really, and they tiresomely repeat themselves, and it all goes on and on with nothing resembling any sort of structure and then people just go to bed or go home or watch TV. The end. Brandywine Distillery Fire isn't anything like that (although the actors are all dressed up, which some people do on Thanksgiving, so there may be some similarities there) because whatever might be said in Brandywine Distillery Fire is in actual sentences, the kind of sentences you are glad to pay good money to hear, which is (believe me) not the case with anybody's actual Thanksgiving dinners which are incomprehensible in a bad, boring way (artistically speaking). Even if you think it would be an interesting experiment to use the actual transcriptions of actual Thanksgivings, and maybe present them, you would be wrong. It might be interesting to present them, but it would be pure hell to listen to or to watch. This is why art exists. To make sense of stuff that would make no sense or be impossible to listen to. I mean, among other things of course. But some people are interested in presenting things that are purposefully pure hell to watch and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, in theory, but I'm still not sure that audiences really want that. Though there are people that happily pay for all sorts of mistreatment, so what do I know. Again, Brandywine Distillery Fire is nothing like that, so please don't get the wrong idea.
When you really stop and think about it, language is such a strange thing. Let's think about leopards, and I chose leopards because I wrote a play once in which leopards are characters, but that really doesn't have anything to do with what I'm talking about here. Leopards make all kinds of sounds all the time. They growl and roar and pant and make strange harsh almost purring but not really kind of sounds and these sounds indicate what is going on inside of the leopard's head. But then Humans came along and took whatever animal sounds humans make and formed them into complicated sounds that represent other things making the leap into abstraction and confusion and lying and specificity that we are all still trying to make sense of eons later. But we're all still animals and so much of what we communicate has to do with our intonation and what our faces look like and the positions of our bodies which is why we get confused and distraught so often by what people say in emails. Not emails like, "Let's meet at 6:30 instead of 6.", but emails where more important and less literal things are talked about and then feelings are hurt and rumors begin and then staring at our computer screens we begin to think that maybe inarticulate grunting might, in fact, be the way to go. I would also like to be very clear that there is no inarticulate grunting in Brandywine Distillery Fire. There is, however, a really lovely three piece living room set in a kind of white satin upholstery that would just beg me to spill coffee all over it if it were in my own living room. White satin upholstery is surprisingly articulate in it's ability to cause spilling just by its presence in a room.
To move on, nothing is spilled on the upholstery in Brandywine Distillery Fire. But all the pieces of furniture are moved around, by the cast, some of whom are wearing heels, and sometimes up into the audience or places that set pieces aren't commonly moved to. I always find watching people doing actual things on stage, I mean, accomplishing actual tasks to be strangely riveting. And sometimes quite moving. Actors on stage aren't cartoons, after all, they are actual people (sometimes called "actors") who are doing things right in front of you and sometimes walk closer to where you are sitting and sometimes move farther away (when this happens in movies they pay lots of money to achieve this effect and call it "3-D") and have all kinds of things in their heads, some of which have nothing to do with the lines they are saying or the play they are performing in at all. But all the audience knows is what's going on in front of them which isn't so different from when you see people on the subway or walking down the street or in restaurants. You don't know what's really going on inside their heads as humans have mostly abandoned inarticulate grunting and mostly do things on the subway like sitting quietly or reading the newspaper. The big difference is that when you go to a theater to see actual people walking around and doing things it's usually far more interesting and focused than the people walking around going about their lives. There's some kind of intent at play. And lots of times the people walking around talking and doing stuff (the "actors") are what we have started referring to as "talented". Which is such a strange concept if you stop to think about it in terms of what we call acting. I mean, most of what actors do involves walking around and talking and stuff, I mean stuff that everybody does. We don't look at someone ordering coffee in a cofee shop from someone behind the counter and it's convincing and then they get their coffee and someone makes a little joke and they laugh, we don't say, "oh, how talented. Very convincing." We don't think about it at all. But if the exact same thing happened on stage in front of us, we might.
Brandywine Distillery Fire
Written by Matthew Freeman
Directed by Michael Gardner
September 9 - September 18 at 8:00pm
performed at the Incubator Arts Project, located in the St. Mark's Church
131 E. 10th Street
Starring Kina Bermudez, Steve Burns, Maggie Cino, Ivanna Cullinan*, Sarah Malinda Engelke*, Alexis Sottile and Moira Stone*