Whatever We Want
Interesting conceit can’t escape predictability
|Vivarium Theatre Company presents|
|Whatever We Want|
Review by Clint May
Oh man, again with the pier.
The use of symbolic and character clichés is a bit of a problem overall in the premiere of Whatever We Want, which has the feeling of a sketch for a later work. There’s always a little leeriness when a writer directs their own work, and Megan Johns (formerly of The New Colony) does nothing to alleviate it. There’s a sense of self-indulgence throughout that smacks of Lena Dunham’s millennial narcissism as well as her essayist styling vis-à-vis HBO’s “Girls”.
There’s no plot per se. The throughline here is that we see these two sisters – Bug (Alison Banoswky) and Della (Niki Dreistadt) – at various points in a 15 year time span. That kind of slice-of-life storytelling is geared toward character observation, but unfortunately these are not fascinating characters. It’s one of those rare instances when the production length—currently at around an hour and a half—feels like it needs more. A not unsizeable amount of that time is actually taken up with rejigging the spartan set’s various boxes into new configurations: a car, a dorm, an apartment, etc. Such blackout switcheroos become tedious and interrupt that heady forward flow of being born into the future.
We enter the girls’ lives before they reach puberty. Their parents are bitterly divorcing and splitting them up. Though already polar opposite personalities—the younger ’Bug’ is an optimistic free spirit and Della a pessimistic hard-nosed realist— they are endeared and dependent on the other. As their lives branch off, we see in several scenelets their attempts to build relationships while maintaining their own connection. Bug finds love with a college roommate (Olivia Nielsen), as the more self-destructive Della finds some semblance of fretful companionship (Patriac Coakley).
What it all builds to is almost a given: a melodramatic explosion wherein the bonds of blood are tested. What’s absolutely missing is any investiture in these people as fully rounded people that live a textured life independently of the script. Bug and Della are such well worn stereotypes, and their arc so well trod, that you can predict almost everything that will happen within the first five minutes. We are simply not given enough of a glimpse as to why these two people became who they are, and if we are supposed to blame it all on the divorce. There could have been a breathtaking Michael Apted-esque quality to taking these random glimpses into these two girls’ lives, but these characters just never flesh out in such a way that the temporal leaps bring startling, organic revelations.
As a cast, everyone has good energy and gives it their all, particularly Banoswky. She does the most believable job of transforming from a child to an adult and shows the greatest potential to break out of the boundaries of a stock character. Dreistadt does a nice job of giving an abrasive character a vulnerability that in some ways makes it conceivable that people would continue to care about her despite all the grief she puts them through. It’s just a shame the script finds nothing fresh to say about why we keep negative elements in our lives.
At its best, Whatever is a contemplative reflection on how early experiences shape who we become. That’s almost always a tantalizing place to start a story, and even the title speaks to a melancholy acknowledgement of the bitter irony that we even presuppose free will (for who is ever free of the past?). If Johns’ piece could break free of the moorings of past platitudes, it would be more than just ‘whatever.’
Whatever We Want continues through November 8th at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $15, and are available online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at VivariumTheatre.com. (Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Matt Beard
behind the scenes