That was like, totally meta, dude Mar 6, 2009
“Anyone for a peanut butter & jelly? ” “Yes, please! ” It’s not the usual way you begin a theater experience – handed a free sandwich slathered with its ingredients by one of the company’s founders and a too-perky smile – but it signaled that the next four hours of No Dice by Nature Theater of Oklahoma wouldn’t be very usual either. The actors were luminous, and I couldn’t take my eyes off Anne Gridley in particular, whose super-expressive face could be a model for female anime characters.
No Dice, with a script culled from over 100 hours of recorded conversations between the company’s actors, founders, and sometimes their families, was an exercise in self-referentialism. But it was self-referentialism that connected me to the piece and the actors – every mundanity they related to us felt familiar, yet fun. I can’t count how many times I laughed out loud or the guy a few seats to my left nearly rolled around on the risers in hysterics. Self-referentialism isn’t at all out of place in a piece that explores, at its core, the specialness and connection that can be found in the mundane, too-similar, unspecial moments that happen every day, to everyone, everywhere – especially those that feel isolating in the moment. The word-for-word repetition of several vignettes, with actors swapping parts the second time around – in particular one bit about the connections between drinking and thinking, between alcoholism and workaholism – reinforced that point subtly enough that you didn’t really realize it was happening until the bit was almost over.
With No Dice ostensibly set in an office, I connected really well to the “same shit, different job ” conversations near the beginning of the piece that helped set the semi-anticlimactic tone (except for the climaxes of each half, which I would pay full price just to see again). Office drones, real estate agents, magicians and their assistants, cat theater animal wranglers – no one is safe from the toll a soul-sucking job can take on you, and it forces us all to take the things that make us suffer and make them into something beautiful, even if we can’t see it – or else we risk being swallowed whole by a world that frankly doesn’t give a shit.
I wanted to read the transcribed pseudo-epilogue text faster than they could scroll it – and then it suddenly bored me, and right when I started to think for the first time that I wished it would be over soon, the three main actors burst into the aforementioned finale.
Though pointedly repetitious in places, full of carefully orchestrated chaos, and with actors breaking the fourth wall all the time to throw a metaphysical wink at the audience with lines so big-picture-thematic that I got a mental image of the “MESSAGE FOR YOU, SIR! ” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, No Dice never seemed heavy-handed or claimed to know the meaning that can come from the mundane - just that it can, and does, if you can find a way to step back from yourself and stop to notice it.