“What is this new trend of plays with projected title cards?” Dania asked, pointing at the projected footage of Chicago. Moments before the bows, the words “THE END” had flashed onto the screen –– complimenting the projected “PLAINCLOTHES” that had followed the first scene in the play.
“Is it a trend?” Gwen asked. “In The Canyon did that, but I can’t think of another.”
“Indecent had a title projection. So did Hir last summer.”
“I believe Indecent‘s projections are in the script.”
“I liked the title cards,” Eleanor replied, as they descended the steep steps leading to the ground floor of the Den Theatre. “They made it feel like a TV show, Chicago Fire or something. Which sort of fit the aesthetic.”
“It’s a choice,” Gwen said. “Although I do wish the screen had been brighter. I had trouble seeing the words.”
“Well, you were sitting about as far away as you could,” Eleanor said. “If you were on the right side of the house, maybe it’s clearer.”
They exited out to the street, bracing themselves for the chill of Chicago November.
“You’d also probably have a better view of the bench where the shoplifters get locked up,” Dania said. “Which would help.”
“I was able to see them all fine,” Eleanor said. “I mean, Bootyshorts takes up space.”
“I know, right?” Dania said. “Loved him. Did have questions about the logistics of how the loss prevention team handles repeat offenders, since they’re pretty friendly with him.”
“He’s a more common one than most, I sense,” Eleanor added. “I don’t think there are a lot of other people in his same position.”
“Still,” Dania continued. “For him to be Instagram friends with them. Like, everyone freaks out when the security camera gets installed in the office, but no one is concerned when a thief shows up on Mary’s Instagram story.”
“The security camera is a different kind of oversight,” Gwen suggested. “Less about conduct than about profiling. At least, that’s T’s argument.”
“I loved T,” Eleanor said. “Stephanie Shum, fantastic actress. Stole every scene she was in.”
“What about Guillermo?” Dania asked. “Alejandro Tey?”
“She stole every scene she was in that he wasn’t in,” Eleanor amended. “And when they were on stage together, they just kept stealing the scene back and forth.”
“It’s a testament to Broken Nose as a company,” Gwen said. “The show hits the perfect ensemble-based sweet spot that At The Table found. It’s almost more interesting to watch the characters banter than it is to watch anything relating to the plot.”
“Well, everyone is so well cast,” Eleanor agreed. “And the characters are really well written. Everyone has their one flaw that puts them technically in the wrong, and their redeeming things that make them relatable.”
“The play was developed with this cast in mind,” Gwen pointed out. “So, naturally, the roles fit.”
Eleanor nodded. “That makes complete sense. It’s a vibrant powder keg of flawed and fascinating humans in there.”
“Sure,” Dania said, with an eye towards the pavement.
Eleanor hesitated. “That sounded like the ‘sure’ of someone politely disagreeing, Dania.”
“You know me so well,” Dania sighed.
“Say your piece.”
“Well, it’s sort of like you said,” she began. “Everyone feels like they’re written with their one flaw, and their relatable dialogue, and no one is entirely in the wrong, everyone is flawed, and so on. It’s that kind of play.”
“It also…” Dania sized up the words she wanted to use. “It sort of feels like that kind of play, right?”
Eleanor waited for Dania to continue, but was met with silence.
“Is this a bad thing?” she finally asked.
“It’s not bad,” Dania said. “Like you, I love a lot of the dialogue. It feels ‘authentic,’ or whatever. Lots of people overlapping.”
“And if I might add,” Gwen butted in, “‘authentic’ in a way that’s not just swearing or overt racism. ‘Authentic’ in the sense that the dialogue feels almost ad libbed, when it can be.”
“Yeah, it’s fascinating to listen to people trying to not be racist for two hours,” chimed Eleanor. “The amount of double talk and implication is suffocating.”
“The part where Jim is like, ‘we’ve caught too many black guys,’ and the air in the room evaporates,” Gwen recalled. “I’ve been in that room before.”
“So have I.”
“Because no one wants to be the one to say it,” Gwen said. “Actually calling a spade a spade is dangerous.”
Dania sucked air through her teeth. “Gwen, you, uh…” she stuttered. “The phrase ‘call a spade a spade’ actually has some racial history that you might ––”
“Oh, no,” Gwen said. “I didn’t…”
“I mean, I can…they don’t want to tell it like it is?”
A moment passed, and the wind chilled.
“Well,” Gwen finally spoke up. “That’s the play.”
“Well, that’s my issue,” Dania said. “If you let me finish my earlier thought.”
She glared at Gwen, who held a hand out. “Continue,” she said sheepishly.
“Everyone is in a different place in the gender/race/age spectrum,” Dania said. “Like, everyone would have different codes in their radio system for identifying people.”
“AWA for T, HMA for Llermo, WMA for Bobby…” Eleanor suggested. “Wait, what would they call Karina?”
“Ooh, good question,” Gwen said.
“They only discuss race in the context where it’s obvious,” Eleanor said. “Like –– okay, if someone like Llermo came in during their quest to catch a White Male Adult, would they have targeted him? What if a transgender person came in?”
“Can I finish?”
“Yes, yes, sorry,” Eleanor backed off. “Just discussing.”
“That’s the thing, though,” Dania said. “The play feels like it’s just a setup for discussion about the message. Like, you said the plot felt secondary to the characters, Gwen.”
“In enjoying the play, not necessarily in script,” she clarified.
“Sure, but for an audience,” Dania said. “For me, who isn’t going to contact the author for the script later.”
“Well, maybe,” Eleanor said. “I’d still say the play is more than only an excuse to throw those characters into a room to fight. The plot helps reveal truths about why we get up in arms about social injustice, and doing performative wokeness.”
“I guess,” Dania replied.
The trio paced Milwaukee Avenue in silence for a moment, before Dania spoke again: “Do you remember the plot?”
“Sure,” Eleanor said. She began to recall the plot, but after two scenes in, her grip began to loosen on the memory.
“No, I think that scene happened before Jim shows up for the first time,” Gwen clarified.
“No, it’s after Jim, because the security camera is there,” Eleanor said. “Are there only three scenes in Act I? The scene with T and Syd is definitely top of Act II.”
“This is what I mean,” Dania pointed out. “You can discuss the message in detail, but the basic point of ‘what happens in the play’ isn’t as important.”
“Is that a fair criticism, though?” Gwen asked. “Perhaps it is, but in that case I have plenty of other shows I’ve attended where I’ve left forgetting parts of the plot. Theatre focuses on affecting audience emotion, not on memory retention.”
“I don’t think it’s a point in the show’s favor, either, though.”
“Whether or not the plot matters…” Eleanor said. “And isn’t that a wild way to begin a positive thought on a piece of theatre…”
“…the message cuts a little deeper than the basic ‘everyone’s a little bit racist’ message I came in expecting. I mean, every character is bad in different ways –– from Bobby’s selective liability, to Mary’s opportunistic justice, to Alma’s complete indifference to the world…”
“Okay, that was pretty funny,” Dania grinned. “All jokes aside, Alma might be my favorite character.”
“I think we’re all Alma, a little,” Gwen suggested.
“I think we have to be.”
“The thing that got me, by the end of the play,” Eleanor continued, “is that every character, if you boil down their motivation, is just trying to preserve themselves. To keep their job, to make a living, to provide for other people.”
“There’s a single line from Jomal about ‘why do you think I’m stealing kid’s clothes’ that I wish they went into more detail on,” Gwen pointed out.
“Exactly. Everyone on any position of the moral spectrum is ultimately protecting themselves here. And yet, there’s still a desire with T and Llermo to get justice when people get targeted or profiled.”
“Even as they get profiled,” Gwen added.
“Yeah, it begins to loop back in on itself,” said Eleanor. “The most interesting scene in the play for me is when they catch White McYouTube, and they’re literally dancing because they’re happy to catch a white guy. And you’re obviously thinking, ‘wow, that’s sort of messed up,’ but at the same time, you’re sort of like…’yeah, they caught a white guy, nice.'”
“See, that was the scene for me where I was questioning logistics,” Gwen said. “Even without audio, you’d think something on the video feed from that scene would get them fired.”
“Maybe,” Dania said. “But he’s a YouTuber, so who honestly cares?”
Gwen shrugged. “Fair.”
“I’d still defend the show as good,” Eleanor said. “Maybe the plot isn’t perfect, but I like it’s message. And the actors are really good.”
“I’m sure there’s hope within the Broken Nose staff about being another nominee for Best Ensemble with this one,” Gwen mused. “I’d support them.”
Dania sighed. “I didn’t hate it, obviously. I’ve just got a lot of unresolved questions.”
“Well, there’s modern theatre.”
Dania’s eyes widened. “Yeah, tell me about it. You wanna get a cookie?”
Image Credit: (l to r) Teresa Kuruvilla, Stephanie Shum and Carmen Molina in Plainclothes. Photo by Austin D. Oie.