‘Mirrors’ reflects confused direction
The Brandeis Players welcomed a small audience into the Shapiro Campus Center theater this past Thursday night for the debut of John O’Brien’s “Mirrors,” directed by Otis Fuqua ’19. “Mirrors” follows protagonist Fred (Abram Foster ’19) through the world within his mind in the wake of losing his family in a fire. Tackling themes of grief and mental illness and questioning reality itself, the play proved an ambitious choice for the Brandeis Players. But with ambition comes risk, and in “Mirrors,” at times stunning high points were spoiled by moments of confused direction.
The show’s opening scene was nothing short of riveting. Behind a screen, the cast of five stood in front of a bright light that transformed their bodies into shadow puppets. They danced and wove between one another, their shadows hypnotically expanding and contracting. This opening sequence effectively suspended reality, as the shadowy figures fluctuated between human and giant. But as the characters emerged, their backlighting dimmed — along with my expectations.
Foster, in his role as Fred, took a seat in front of the stage, gulped down enough whiskey to put a frat boy to shame and did not flinch or grimace in the slightest. His lack of reaction, coupled with the coherence of his speech, made me wonder briefly if this was a conscious performance decision. But a drunken stumble confirmed either an inconsistency or unawareness on the part of the actor, removing me a bit from the drama of the scene.
The rest of the cast introduced themselves in a sitcom-esque simulation within Fred’s mind. We meet Fred’s family, including wide-eyed dreamer Freddy (Josh Rubenstein ’19), young, romantic Chip (Riely Allen ’18), snide teen Marita (Halley Geringer ’19) and Fred’s doting, unnamed wife (Sivan Spector ’18).
For anyone who has ever seen a 90’s sitcom, these portrayals of old comedy clichés had a ring of authenticity. And to his credit, Foster played Fred with the kind of raw humanity needed to juxtapose these less-than-realistic tropes, clarifying his role as a real person inside a simulation.
Technically, “Mirrors” was a mixed bag. The sitcom parody sequence was punctuated by a laugh track, a touch which could have elevated the stiff surreality of the scene had the cues landed. However, almost every use of the laugh track seemed to start a beat too late and end a beat too soon. Although sound mistakes recurred throughout the show, the lighting was among “Mirrors”’ strongest points. In several instances, characters summoned spotlights with a clap of their hands; these lighting cues, among others, landed with the clean precision required to uphold the illusion.
But “Mirrors”’ greatest obstacle lay in that the fact that the show’s most dramatic moments evoked discomfort when sympathy and awe were due. As the show progressed, it grew more and more tonally discordant.
When Fred remembers his family member’s deaths he wears a shiny silver fedora and is joined onstage by a witch with a glowing rainbow staff. The director was likely aiming to make this scene jarring, but the audience seemed to be holding back laughter, which I have to assume was not the intention for a scene with such dramatic content. And on top of this tonal confusion, issues of time management on the actors’ parts led to a host of awkward moments. Straining to remember his wife’s name, Fred sits in a chair and stutters over the letter “s” for nearly five minutes (which felt more like 20). Without visual interest or any variety in this scene, the audience, again, seemed unsure of how to react.
With a mind-bending premise like something out of a “Black Mirror” episode, “Mirrors” did succeed in presenting a warped, surreal mindscape on-stage. That said, technical and tonal inconsistencies weighed the play down, making it, ultimately, a too-often confused and uncomfortable theater experience.