‘Hum’ at Theater Alliance by Joel Markowitz

Tired of all those revivals and multiple productions of classics all around town? Then hop into your Hummer and drive over to Theater Alliance at Atlas Performing Arts Center and see the world premiere of Nicholas Wardigo’s Hum, directed by Theater Alliance Artistic Director Colin Hovde and Theater Alliance. It’s weird and entertaining stuff and Twilight Zone-ish, where silence is golden and over-speaking can get you in a heap of a lot of trouble. Shh!

Jon Reynolds (Van). Photo by Colin Hovde.

As I enter the intimate ‘in the square’ space in The Lab Theater II, I could hear the electronic/disco-y pulse of the music, and that ‘hum’ started filling my ears. Supplied by Sound Designer Brandon Vierra, the hum and the other sound effects he provides during the production are key ‘characters’ in the play. I have very sensitive hearing  (don’t even think of unwrapping a piece of candy near me in the theatre!) and that pulsating, almost heart-pumping hum never left my ears in the 90 minutes I sat there, and on my long journey home on the Metro.

Set Designer Robbie Hayes immediately makes his point when you enter the theater that everything in Van and Eva’s marriage and lives is simply ‘black and white’ and quite stale. There’s a white bed, a white table, 2 white end tables and a black and white checkerboard table cloth, and checkerboard tiles on their floor. And Van and Eva communicate by holding up notes (Post-its I think). The writing on these notes are projected by Hayes and his Assistant Patrick Lord on ‘screens’ which forces the audience to turn and read them (like surtitles at the opera) – like ‘Hi’ and ‘Thanx’ and other objects of short affection. Let’s just say that it’s a smart way to keep the audience involved and this effective technique is ‘well noted.’

On the other side of the space is a long counter top on what looks like a large bar, but you will have to come see the show to find out what this really is. Kyle Grant’s lighting design effectively sets all the changing moods, while Heather Lockard dresses them simply. (What did you expect? They live a simple life).

I am glued to my seat watching Wardigo’s fascinating new work and these wonderful performances by Jon Reynolds (Van) and Kennen Sisco (Eva), who are ably supported by the equally quiet Greg Gallagher (“Guard”) and Nathaniel Mendez (“Stranger”).

Kennen Sisco (Eva). Photo by Colin Hovde.

Van and Eva have a ‘robotic and mechanical’ married life, and we instantly get an eery taste of it as they lay in their bed motionless and emotionless and ‘dead-like’ as we enter the theater. I watched Sisco and Reynolds for 15 minutes and they never moved. Now that’s great acting – or badly stiff joints.

That annoying hum has drowned out any likelihood of normal communication for Van and Ava, but when the hum is buzzing no more, things change – and let’s just say that Eva bites off more than she can chew. The play becomes All About Eva, and when she starts talking and tinkering with glasses, we’re all in for a ‘bumpy ride.’

Kennen Sisco (Eva) and Jon Reynolds (Van). Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Reynolds’ Van is Buster Keaton-like in the ‘silent’ portion of play, and his body communicates with every jerk and move – better than when he actually gets to speak. Sisco is hysterical in the ‘sound section’ as she grows louder by the minute, and as her brain swells with new-found knowledge,  she becomes obnoxious to the ‘core.’ And this is where Directors Hovde and Mendez deserve some credit by not turning Eva and Van into cartoon characters. Through their changes – the good, the bad and the obnoxious – these are real people with some real problems that – most probably – not even a great therapist could help them change.

See that below this? I don’t have the answer. The important question should be: “Wot Happened 2 Ava and Van When The Hum Went Kaput?” And for that answer you need to see this production to find out.

Theater Alliance’s production of Hum is a ‘hum-dinger’ of a cool time in the theater. Don’t miss it!

The cast of 'Hum.' Photo by Colin Hovde.

Hum plays through June 3, 2012 at Theater Alliance at June 3, 2012 at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online. More details here.

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