About halfway through Casey Bauer’s surreal Half Past What?, I came to the stark realization that I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on yet was still completely enthralled.
The play is wacky and nonsensical in the best possible ways, perhaps similar to how a particular piece of abstract expressionist art really speaks to you under just the right light. The action and dialogue are abstract (everything is spoken in some sort of wild metaphor) but the rich narrative and vivid characterizations seep through. This is all thanks to three terrific performances by three gutsy actors, as well as the unfettered devotion of Director Jonathan Wong to the world of the play. The audience may not be aware of what’s happening but it’s apparent the actors are, and that dramaturgical coup is what makes Half Past What? a brilliant exercise in form.
We open with the demure Tot (Kathleen Barth) and rambunctious Raf (Cathryn Benson), who immediately establish the wild “reality” of their world. The actresses deliver Bauer’s poetic language with remarkable aplomb, allowing words that in our world mean nothing to acutely insult, enthrall, and aggrieve Tot and Raf in theirs. The two trade emotional volleys, quickly painting a vivid portrait of their whirlwind relationship.
Benson in particular devours the Raf character with a palpable manic energy. “She’s got serial killer eyes,” explains one character, making this writer’s job all the easier. It’s a good thing that Benson’s got Raf down because for Half Past What? to work the actress playing this outrageous character needs to repress all self-consciousness and just go with it. Benson checks all the boxes; hers is one of the stand-out performances in all of Fringe so far.