Max Berry’s review of THE SWELL

Showtones’ lead writer, Max Berry reviews Refracted Theatre’s immersive audio experience designed for pandemic enjoyment: THE SWELL

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With all the theaters closed, artists are being forced to come up with new ways to make art. No doubt we’ve all seen many Zoom plays or Facebook live streams and while those are all great, I have been eager to experience something different. Enter “The Swell” produced by Refracted Theatre Company.  “The Swell” is an audio theatrical experience that uses outdoor spaces and puts you directly into the story all without ever having a single prop or set. You put yourself in the location they request, pop on your headphones, and you’re good to go. What followed was a much-needed refresh in the theatrical experience. A new idea that allowed me to create the world for myself and place their characters in it.

While I was, of course, able to listen and enjoy the work, sitting in the park listening to it also felt very meditative in a way that is different than how one might feel in an audience. The first piece requested that I be near a small body of water and the second asked me to be by a baseball field (For all my NYC friends, Central Park will cover both). While I’m sure these pieces can be enjoyed anywhere, I highly encourage you to move to the spots that they requested as each audio piece is designed for that space.

The first piece entitled “Contrition: A Long Voicemail” written by Liba Vaynberg and directed by Tova Wolff, was a voicemail intercut with nonlinear scenes, telling the story of a relationship from beginning to end, the voicemail acting as a sort of epilogue that is slowly revealed as the play goes on. The monologue itself is both written and delivered beautifully. Actor, Molly Carden (Rose), conveys the kind of uncertainty and fear that makes you not want to move. You stay there by your lake of choice, waiting for the conclusion. Her chemistry with Blake Delong (Noah) was very real even through headphones.  The philosophical conversations had between the two characters were very beautiful and reminded me of the type of conversations we’ve all been having during this time. Questions of existence and faith. Do we exist in the way that we think we do? All told among the sounds of a lake not unlike the one I was seated beside. It made the whole thing much more personal. Real. Like you were witnessing the ghosts of a conversation long gone. And while I wasn’t sure about the first couple scenes that interrupted the monologue, by the end it all came together in a really beautiful way.

Next, I ventured to a baseball field for “The Legend of Jim Gunderson and How I Wound Up in Your Ear” written by Dylan Guerra with direction by Graham Miller, and the tone was different right away. The narrator (Played by David Shih) had this strange humor to him. As if the whole time he knew something you didn’t. He directly addresses you and says he’s going to “tell you the story of how he wound up in your ear.” For some reason, he reminded me of  the narrator in A Christmas Story or the one in those old Dr. Seuss cartoons. There was a sense of wonder to him. The use of space was also very well done, opening the scene in a baseball field, you hear the players and the cheering crowd. The ghosts return and you are placed right in the middle of a little league game. The story itself is profound and charming, told in an almost storybook manner. We meet Jim Gunderson (Played by Jelani Alladin) who has had just about as average of a life as anyone can have, and we see how Jim takes this normal life and, with the help from the mysterious Megan (Claudia Acosta), tries to find meaning in it. Tries to understand it. Tries to change it. This all culminates in an ending that will surprise you and leave you thinking about it for a long while on the train. While the whole story is great, the real star in both writing and acting is the narrator. Making what would have otherwise been a pretty straight forward tale feel incredibly magical.

“The Swell” was a fantastic excuse to get out of my apartment (because Lord knows we need a lot of those right now) and gave me both a transformative theatrical experience and two very well told stories. I highly encourage anyone to pull it up on any platform that it’s available, go to the park, and give it a listen. And keep an eye out for more! Act two is coming soon and you better believe I’ll be eagerly awaiting its arrival. And the best part about an audio experience is, if you love it you can listen to it over and over. So, get outside, pop in your headphones and listen to some great theatre made by some great artists.

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“The Swell” is a theatrical audio experience produced by Refracted Theatre Company.

“Contrition: A Long Voicemail”  was written by Liba Vayanberg and starred Molly Carden and Blake DeLong.

“The Legend of Jim Gunderson And How I Wound Up in Your Ear” was written by Dyaln Guerra and starred David Shih, Jelani Alladin,  and Claudia Acosta.

“The Swell” was hosted by Stevi Incremona.

Sound design by Emma Wilk.

To listen to the entire show go to: https://www.refractedco.com/the-swell

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