A Toy Gun
The Georgian-American Theatrical Feast has been taking place Off-off-Broadway, introducing audiences to theater from the country of Georgia through several readings and two full productions presented by Red Lab Productions. The production I attended was of Tamar Bartaia’s two-character play A Toy Gun, presented by Red Lab Productions and Otar Margania.
The play’s story begins with a 14-year-old girl (Mea) auditioning for a popular actor (Yo), who humiliates her, saying “You’ve got not talent”. She soon returns to the theater threatening him with a realistic toy gun. He grovels on his knees, saying “You were the most talented of all the girls.” She tosses the gun aside and leaves.
This event is the only important piece of dramatic action in the play. Indeed, the characters hardly see one another again. What’s noteworthy about the script is Ms. Bartaia’s deft dialogue technique. The actors nearly always address us; the dialogue at the audition is atypical. They can generally - not always - hear one another. There are a few speeches, but Mea and Yo usually speak in short or medium-length lines that meld together creating one flow:
Mea: They’re having auditions! They’re putting on Romeo and Juliet. Any 14-year old girl who fancies it and who’s got some acting talent can come along.
Yo: In that case they can have me as the director.
Mea: Do you know who’s putting it on? Yoram! Yes, yes, it is! I’ll go crazy. God, what am I going to do if I don’t get the part… No, that’s out of the question, I’ve got to play Juliet!
Yo: I’m in charge of the casting committee… All this stupid stuff’s too much for me. But what can you do?
They alternate between the present tense and the past tense in a manner that’s illogical but makes dramatic sense.
As the play progresses, Mea becomes a famous mezzo-soprano (in a very unlikely plot turn, she’s discovered singing with friends, and offered the role of Carmen at La Scala). Yo abandons acting and becomes playwright. They marry their respective spouses and pursue their careers, travel and return to Georgia, telling us all along about their lives. But most of their lives don’t concern the other character. After the scenes at the audition, there’s no dramatic tension, and we miss a plot.
But Ms. Bartaia offers some interesting insights. Mea and Yo reveal character through what they say, not what they do. “I don’t want to talk about my celebrity life. It is as banal and boring as any other,” Mea tells us. And “It’s terrible when you want to cry and you have to sing instead.”
There are two jumps of time in the story - one of ten years and a second of 20 years. There are two Georgian wars - a civil war, which was the Abkhazia war of 1991, and the three-day war 2008. The narratives, however, essentially glide over them. Ms. Bartaia’s concern is with the characters’ internal lives, not their societal lives. But Yo makes an interesting observation during the civil war: “Nobody needs the cinema, theater or even actors in this country.”
The production is directed very creatively by Becky Baumwoll. She works on a bare stage, with audience in two areas facing each other on either side of the playing area, creating a nice intimacy. The actors are barefoot. The floor is strewn with envelopes. During the play, the actors open a few and pour from them colored sand on the floor in a large circle. It’s lovely.
Tara Giordano and Luke P. Younger play Mea and Yo, respectively, with contrasting delivery styles that give the lines a nice music. They both show understated contrasts within the characters as they mature. Mea progresses from “I’ve got to play Juliet” to “I don’t want anything anymore.” Yo moves from a smug “I’m a very popular actor, you could say the most popular actor actor in the country” to “I haven’t been able to work on stage for ages.”
And so A Toy Gun is an appealing, modest production. At 70 minutes, it’s the correct length. Its tightly intertwining narratives suggest an intriguing flow of time, and its actors match that with adept flows of emotion. If the script would benefit from more conflict, well, we appreciate its gentle lyricism.