Review: Wayfinding Needn’t Find Direction To Be Worth Seeing
Every so often a play comes along that feels more like song than prose, more like a note than a chord, and more like a question than an answer. Wayfinding is one such play. Whitney Rowland’s jaunt through magical realism follows the intertwining lives of a haunted, death-obsessed widow and a dangerously noncommittal mountaineer, with intense focus on questions of responsibility, regret and self sabotage. Though rarely straightforward and still working on a few technical issues, Wayfinding is everything bold theater ought to be; insightful, stylish, and above all thought-provoking.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the play is its distribution. Instead of a live performance, the Theatre team has recorded a version of the play that is made available online with the purchase of a ticket. Suddenly, stage effects like lighting and sound are put into conversation with cinematic effects like camera angles and video editing, resulting in challenges and triumphs in approximately equal measure. At several points, what might have been a pensive scene change on stage turns into a brusque transition on film, robbing the audience of a moment of contemplation or a chance to let emotional weight sink in. Also unfortunate are the few shaky camera adjustments that give deeply resonant scenes an Office-esque documentary feel. That said, the camera work shines at the disorienting moments in the interspatial forest, and is leveraged effectively in scenes where main characters appear in the background of the action, lending them the air of being present even when they’re not, in a clever flourish from stage manager Brooke Cox (‘22). Care was obviously put into the mandatory captioning, which appears to have been painstakingly manually transcribed. Finally, the sound design of this performance stands out even through a screen. The play knows when to be silent and when to be loud, filling the space with symphonic swells of turbulence, pathetic heart monitor beeps, and uncanny roars of noise in the forest just as often as it lets the actors’ words echo in the emptiness.
Of course, it’s not a play without actors. The tiny cast plays perfectly into a story about running into people again and again, and it’s difficult not to feel a bit of joy as one recognizes characters reincarnate into different forms. Brady McDevitt (‘22) shines as the delightfully awkward and authentically numb Jane, whose resignation and hopelessness burbles under gentle kindness and understated politeness. Danny Davis’ (‘21) Harrison sways from reckless libertine to entitled ass with remarkable depth, while Spike Iverson (‘21) holds the show together as the link between two worlds, bumbling but kind hearted, outspoken but emotionally mature. Every actor seems profoundly aware of the weight their characters carry, even those few one-off staff whose delightful self-destruction lends credence to the crapsack world our characters inhabit.
Under firm direction from director Lava Alapai, Wayfinding does an excellent job converting what could have been weaknesses into strengths, all while never quite playing its hand. It asks a myriad of questions, most of which are intentionally unresolved by the end of the performance. Wayfinding is not a simple story, despite its premise; or, perhaps in delightful ambiguity, it’s the simplest story of all.
Rating: 4 / 5 missing transcontinental flights