It was an unofficial Playwrights Reunion Night at closing night of Just Theater’s production of Anne Washburn’s I HAVE LOVED STRANGERS. All of us busy bastards finally had a chance to check the show out. Aaron was there, Steve was there, Robert was there. I turned to the woman next to me and found out she, too, was a newly-arrived-to-Berkeley playwright. Even Enrique was there, on break from Brown and in town for a month or two.
This was my first chance to see Jonathan Spector’s direction of a full production. I’ve seen him do readings — he directed a reading of mine, in fact — and he’s awesome. He digs right into the crux of the story and figures out how to beautifully stage anything you throw at him.
And this play throws a lot at him. There’s the Weather Underground. There’s the Book of Jeremiah. There’s a lot of free-floating dialogues and fragments of conversations. It could easily bog down, I guess, but this production is just sparkling and engrossing and quick and brisk and wonderful.
The space is unusual, which works perfectly for the cool set made up of broken pillars and stones. There are a lot of doors, which works perfectly for all the fragments of dialogue, as people enter and exit mid-thought. And there’s an amazing cast, which works perfectly because, you know, it’s theater and all.
One of my favorite things was the “talkforward.” Jonathan came onstage before the show and gave a little context to the play, much like a docent’s talk before touring a museum. Having just recently been to the Salvador Dali Museum, where I spent fifteen minutes looking at paintings and going, “Mm-hmm, yes, yes, I see” before getting a docent’s talk and re-seeing the paintings with some context, I completely understood and appreciated what they were doing.
And I think it’s a brilliant move. There were a number of people in the audience (who I could see because it’s theater in the round) who seemed to visibly relax when they heard Jonathan’s talk. It was as if they started out defensive, thinking they were going to see a pretentious piece and they’d have to struggle to figure out what a biblical prophet has to do with the Weathermen. And then they realized they could just sit back and take in the experience and let it wash over them and talk about it later over a drink.
Which is what I did, having a beer with Enrique and hearing about his experience at Brown. But that’s another story. Oh, wow, is that another story….