It’s usually not difficult to predict what happens in a two-person play entitled “The Dance of the Fireflies.” It would include a boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back story with just enough poetry and passion balanced against solid doses of chemistry and confusion. But this “Dance of the Fireflies,” the fourth production this year by the not-yet-one-year-old Street Lamp Repertory Company, presents a much richer story than the title initially suggests.
The play follows two classmates beginning with their last two years of high school, continuing through college and culminating in their five-year high school reunion. Elected co-editors of the 1974 Eastman High literary journal, the over-achieving Lindsay (Alexandra Trow ’09) and the bong-toting Russ (Marshall Pailet ’09) want nothing to do with each other. Through their shared awe for the power of artfully crafted words, however, they grow to respect and eventually attempt to love each other. But college leads them in seemingly irreconcilable directions where the possibility of boy-getting-girl-back becomes an ever more elusive goal.
Trow shines as the straight-talking, over-earnest Lindsay. She eloquently captures the character’s high school unease — her focus precludes any opportunity for fun and her modest stiffness makes any interaction with guys, let alone other girls, impossible. While Lindsay’s quest for perfection drives away her classmates, Trow’s deft portrayal of the high school “that girl” is easy and thoughtful. As Lindsay enters college, it becomes increasing difficult for her to garner sympathy, and though this character seems completely at odds with her 18-year-old identity, Trow transforms Lindsay’s somewhat hodge-podge character arc into a complicated and captivating woman.
Russ, as played by Pailet, is the popular no-goodnik. Self-described as an “aquamarine Pontiac GTA with a black vinyl top,” he has outgrown his delinquency and longs for deeper meaning in his life. Pailet approaches the character with charming candor that becomes more convincing as his character ages. When playing the high school-aged Russ, Pailet occasionally dips into melodrama somewhat unsuccessfully, but his performance through his character’s college years and what follows is striking in its simplicity and devastating in its sincerity.
Together, Trow and Pailet are electric, with the evolution of their on-stage chemistry natural and engaging. Especially tender is the first change scene in which the audience is presented with a self-conscious, semi nude Lindsay and the obnoxiously arrogant Russ. The way in which the characters see themselves as they stand before their own mirrors is particularly elucidating. Yet the repetition of the change sequences decreases their power and they become increasingly less meaningful and organic.
At their first meeting for the literary journal, Lindsay chastises Russ for his lackluster interest and commitment to the magazine: “There’s a difference between caring and pretending to care,” she says.
And while he takes her words to heart, she becomes progressively less altruistic and rejects the morality that once defined her. But this change is treated rather superficially in the play; it is difficult to understand the reasons behind her metamorphoses and be convinced of the situation’s reality. The intensely intimate interactions between Lindsay and Russ begin benign and sweet, the audience rooting for these two characters to reveal their feelings for one another and succumb to the tension between them. Regrettably these fluttering butterflies turn to awkward discomfort caused by the utter disbelief at who these people have become.
It is clear from the fluid ease of the performance that director John Hansen-Brevetti ’08 approached “The Dance of the Fireflies,” written by Pailet’s father Al Pailet, with delicacy and care. The actors take advantage of the Davenport-Pierson Theater by relocating the audience to the stage and incorporating the sloped seats into the simple adornment of their set. Also overseeing lights and sound, Hansen-Brevetti creates an ethereal web of lights over the audience’s heads to serve as the play’s titular fireflies.
Tickets are just $2.00 (that’s only eight gumballs or half a cappuccino), so if you opt for a more intimate theater experience, then “The Dance of the Fireflies” is worth the Starbucks sacrifice. You don’t need more coffee during midterms anyway.