What is so great about the real world? This is the question posed by “Non-Reality,” a new play written by Brandeis student Emma Lieberman ’14 that was performed the weekend of Nov. 17. The answer, it turns out, does not come easily. The production starts out innocent enough, but eventually arrives at an ambiguous and unsettling ending, although the journey from beginning to end is well-constructed and innovative. Director Amanda Stern ’15 and producer Julian Seltzer ’15 did an excellent job of bringing Lieberman’s vision to life.
The plot centers around Becca (Jess Plante ’16) a stereotypical high school fangirl and the implications of her obsession with fictional characters and escapism. She has a poor relationship with her mother and her best friend Julie (Allie Alexander ’14) is no different than a more level-headed version of herself. Her small world, however, changes when she meets Jon (Steven Kline ’14) a seemingly typical jock with a passion for “The Lord of the Rings.” This small, nerdy facet of an otherwise ‘normal’ athlete causes Becca to reevaluate her worldview, forming a crush on Jon and agreeing to go to the school dance with him. A subplot revolving around Julie’s romantic interests with Jon’s friend Andrea (Jennifer Largaespada ’16) serves as a foil to Becca’s romance, as Julie is more grounded in reality.
The dance scene in particular capitalizes on an interesting technique that the play employs: as scenes progress, a projector displays what is going on in a character’s head. For instance, while Becca reads “The Lord of the Rings” in class, a Balrog threatens the Fellowship from the story onscreen. Relevant clips from TV and film are played between set changes to reflect Becca’s current state of mind. It is possible to follow the play entirely through these clips, ranging from traditional nerd fare such as “Doctor Who” and “Star Trek” to romantic comedies, including “She’s The Man” and “The Breakfast Club:” whatever is consistent with Becca’s ever-shifting interests. This duality of scenes drives home the point that Becca cannot and will not break free of her fictions, no matter the changes in her life. The dance scene is the best example of this: Act One ends and Act Two begins as the same scene told from first Becca’s and then Jon’s perspective. This reveals without a doubt that Becca is living in a fantasy. The rest of the play deals with the fallout of the dance and ultimately asks if it is better to be realistic or happy.
The excellent ambiguity of the play could not have been conveyed properly without the acting skills of Jess Plante ’16 as Becca. Plante brought a familiar brand of awkwardness to the character, as well as a childlike spark of innocence, lending Becca depth and validity as a person. Similarly, Steven Kline ’14 played Jon very well, adopting a familiar jock persona with aplomb. The rest of the actors did lovely jobs with their characters as well, particularly Alexandra Patch ’14 as Becca’s mother Jane. The standout performances, however, were played by the leads.
In addition to high-quality portrayals, the characters of “Non-Reality” are well-written and complex. Lieberman has crafted an interesting story relevant to the modern age with its amount of media content and disconnect between expectations and reality. Especially in today’s society, staying connected and informed is important, but occasionally hard, due to despair or a myriad of other reasons. The theme of the play was clearly farther reaching than the high school plot would suggest. In addition, the dialogue felt very natural, echoing well what actual high school students would say to each other. The plot is structured in such a way that the viewer becomes completely embroiled in the high school drama, distracted from the deeper themes until they reared their ugly heads in the final act.
The team utilized the Schwartz auditorium well, staggering the set so each area was distinct and well-spaced. Most of the furniture was arranged in front of the stage; the stage itself was used for Becca’s bed and the projector screen. A trophy case in the back and desks on the floor were used to signify a transformation to the high school setting, with the bed remaining on the stage. Many small details contributed to the characterization of Becca and her peers, be it the “Star Wars” paraphernalia in Becca’s room or her mother’s DVD collection. Each of the settings were simply arranged, meaning that the strength of the actors and the writing could come through easily.
“Non-Reality” was an intriguing play that had an interesting premise and production technique. Well written and directed, it was very much worth seeing and it showcased the unique talents of the students participating in Brandeis theater.