Absolute Zero

Drama · n/a · Ages 18+ · United States of America

world premiere
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Review by ERIK BLAIR

June 24, 2016 certified reviewer

What I liked

The Theme: The idea of what “love” means to different people is a strong idea. When watching this play, I ultimately felt like all of the characters were trying to grasp hold of a definition of love for themselves and the problems within the dynamics of the characters were really about their inability to have any equal idea with any other character about what love meant.

It’s a great idea for a show, ultimately. I’d love to see this show get reworked somewhat so that the theme is drawn out even farther—because what’s there right now is potent and it could be even more so.

The Acting: While I have some definite problems with what I was watching (see below for what and why), the actors themselves were clearly both invested in the show and putting out strong performances. Most especially Ryan Lisman and Daniel Ballard, who had very tough arcs to try and cross and who made their characters as real and legitimate as the script (in its current form, again see below) would allow. Lindsey Jean Roetzel was also compelling in her attempts to cover her choices when Charles returned from his experience.

What I didn't like

For me, the biggest problems in this production all stem from one source—I simply didn’t believe many of the things that happened. In a story, we as the audience are asked to suspend our disbelief and follow along in whatever the creator is asking of us. The harder you make that, the harder it is for us to remain in your story. For me, there were simply too many things that broke down for me to remain connected.

I’ll give a few examples:

  • Charles is apparently brought right across the street from where he lived. And yet he never yells for ANYONE’s help—even before he begins to have a different opinion.
  • The Police Officer calls himself by his first name, always. I don’t know any policeman who does that. And then he apparently takes it upon himself to go door-to-door, as opposed to the detectives who would actually do that (or at least be the impetus behind it).
  • James is perfectly within his legal rights to tell the policeman he can’t search inside. And yet, moments later the cop makes an illegal break-in of the house, with NO time for any sort of search warrant. The cop had no legitimate reason to believe immediate life endangerment.
  • The psychiatrist apparently decides that James is so honest he’s simply going to…let him go for the night?

I could add a dozen more, but the point is this: every time you create a moment where things happen because you NEED them to for plot instead of finding a way for the events to CREATE the plot—you end up with these sorts of strange moments that don’t make any logical sense. And you lose your audience’s ability to suspend their disbelief.

This is equally problematic in some of the characters’ choices. Most especially in both the brother Jeremy and the psychiatrist. Jeremy in one breath says he made a choice to keep his brother safe when his parents died—and then within 5 WEEKS of his brother’s disappearance suddenly says “I guess I have to let him go” and then makes a brutally graphic pass on the girlfriend. That’s a choice that I simply couldn’t follow logically—so I lost my connection to the show at that moment.

In all of these cases, I’m pointing them out because you HAVE a strong theme. If you can clear up the story so that it makes logical sense…so that we stay engrossed and connected and involved within it, then that story will have a deeper, more lasting impact. And that’s the goal I want you to reach, because I think there’s merit in this story—just not yet in the version I’m seeing.

My overall impression

I came into this play with no conception of what I was going to see. What I found was a play that ultimately is about the meaning of love. What is love—who can love whom—is love fragile—is it forever—is it powerful—is it salvation, or damnation, or worthless? The characters in this play are all circling around the idea of love and that’s a play that is really worth seeing.

Unfortunately, the play that currently exists is deeply flawed and in need of revision before that greater play can shine through. Choices often seem to be made by both characters and events simply and only so that the plot can continue or change at the playwright’s whim. Some directing choices seem to have been made equally for similar expediency or plot-moving effect.

Are these fatal flaws in the script or directing that cannot be corrected in future productions? No, these are only signs of an artist still inexperienced in their craft. I certainly have made similar mistakes in my first scripts and in the first productions I ever directed (I shudder to think of that first show these days.)

The acting is as strong as this production can allow it to be, and I saw moments here and there where I was clear on what it was Lisman was TRYING to reach for. I think for a festival like Fringe, shows that reach for something deeper are important and I’m ultimately glad that I saw this show. Truly glad. Many of the shows I saw this festival were funny, but also along the surface.

This show is attempting to dive to deeper depths. Yes, right now it’s running into the ground and springing leaks as it does so. Yes, right now watching the show is likely to make some people feel like the pressure changes are making their brains ooze out of their ears. But there is value—true value—in this show’s theme and in the work that was done here. And I think with revisions to help audiences connect better into the world, the play could become something much deeper still.

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