Kerry Ryan

Who’s on first? Anonymously yours

On Monday at The Armory, the company that does not know each other meets onstage for the musical "Urinetown." Expect the unexpected.

Sitting down for coffee one morning last week with Darius Pierce and Elizabeth Young, I found myself asking questions about nothing. Not nothing, actually: no one. No twenty ones, as it turned out, those twenty being the cast and chorus of the musical satire Urinetown: The Musical, which opens – and closes – on Monday at The Armory.

Pierce knows the identity of these twenty elusive entertainers, but in this he is pretty much alone in the universe. And he’s not spilling. So, a little like medieval philosophers discussing dancing angels and the load-bearing capacity of the heads of pins, we were talking about what we did not know and could not see, though we were convinced of the reality behind the mystery.

How could this be? The name of the production company, Anonymous Theatre Company, provides a clue. The quixotic mission of Anonymous is to produce one play a year, for one night only, in which nobody in the cast knows who the other actors are until they meet them, during the performance, onstage. All of the actors sit with the audience, in street clothes, until it’s time to make their first entrance. Then they rise from their seats, and are revealed. Can’t tell the players without a scorecard? At Anonymous, the scorecard doesn’t help a bit. As Kerry Ryan, one of the company’s founders, puts it, “The audience gets to see the story happening as if it is happening for the first time … because it actually is happening for the first time.”

The crowd at an Anonymous Theatre show. You can show the audience. The actors are a closely guarded secret.

In the communal world of the theater, an art form whose essence is collaboration, this approach is about as counterintuitive as driving from Chicago to San Francisco to get to New York. Even solo shows aren’t done in isolation. Designers, director, stage manager, running crew, music director and choreographer if it’s a musical, and others are involved intimately in the process.

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Keeping up with the Joneses

Will Eno's Chekhovian comedy at Third Rail hovers in the mortal zone: It's only love, and that is all. Why do they feel the way they do?

There they are, the four of them, up in some little town near the mountains, sitting outside, breathing the crisp air, chattering maybe pointlessly or maybe not, grating on one another’s nerves, watching their lives slowly slip away.

And, yes, it’s a comedy.

The Realistic Joneses, Will Eno’s circuitous and allusive play that opened Friday night at Third Rail Rep, is a sort of Chekhov of the suburbs, or more accurately of the forgotten corners of small-town America, a play of puzzled emotions and ambitions so far lost that they can’t quite be put into words anymore. What was that I wanted to do and be, again, before life interrupted?

All Jones, all the time: Green, O'Connell, Pierce, Ryan. Photo: Owen Carey

All Jones, all the time: Green, O’Connell, Pierce, Ryan. Photo: Owen Carey

As with Chekhov, nothing much happens in The Realistic Joneses, and the world shifts. The play begins with one of those funny-awkward encounters. Bob and Jennifer Jones are sitting outside on their patio chairs, involved in what seems their ordinary game of forced cheerfulness (on her part) and passive aggression (on his) when the clatter of an overturning garbage can sounds offstage and John and Pony burst around the corner, all cheery and bearing a bottle of wine. They’re the new neighbors, and, wouldn’t you know it, they’re the Joneses, too.

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