‘The 24th Day’ is tense, dark, dangerous and lovely

Foundry Performance Laboratory Presents: The 24th Day

Shores Event Center — Saturday, Aug. 31; Sunday, Sept. 1; and Wednesday-Friday Sept. 4-6

Kyle Shedeck (L) and Matthew James in ‘The 24th Day.’ — courtesy of Foundry Performance Laboratory

The first time I saw the Shores Event Center, I knew it would make a killer theatrical space. There’s something about brick walls and exposed piping that’s raw, seductive and inherently dramatic. The cozy bar, the architecture: the whole place is atmosphere. Director Kerry Covington and the Foundry Performance Laboratory use that atmosphere brilliantly in their production of Tony Piccirillo’s The 24th Day.

From the moment I entered the space I attempted to clue in on what I was about to see. I fancy myself a keen observer, and I knew nothing about this play, other than the fact that it was a two-man show where the actors arrive each night ready to play either role depending on the results of a coin toss.

The sheer challenge of learning two sets of lines, developing two distinct personalities and compartmentalizing them to be present in a rehearsal process is impressive of its own accord. But I can only imagine the tension that said coin flip adds to the mix.

Matthew James and Kyle Shedeck grab ahold of that tension from word one and squeeze it till it bleeds all over the stage.

On first glance, the stage seemed to be set slightly haphazardly. The sightlines were drawn simply and cleanly, which rocks because the intimate space puts viewers right up in the action. But the set pieces themselves refused to belong together.

The ornate green velvet couch was curvy and elegant, which didn’t jibe with the modular wooden chairs and end tables. The boxy 24-inch television and rotary phone felt even further out of place. Everything, down to the odd pictures on the wall, jarred, and it was hard to pinpoint why.

I tried to shake it off. But it unsettled me. It felt more like a graveyard for the detritus of other people than a place where someone might actually live. Which, in hindsight, is an unbelievably apt impression.

Matthew James (L) and Kyle Shedeck in ‘The 24th Day.’ — courtesy of Foundry Performance Laboratory

It takes a certain unassuming kind of genius to communicate something so nuanced with such grace and subtlety. Covington’s direction proves her skill at doing exactly that repeatedly throughout this play. Her investigation of subjective truth, self-deception and the violence we unleash outward when we cannot bear the weight of our own shame is achingly authentic.

For the duration of the performance, the audience existed in a collective state of bated breath I’ve never experienced before. The air around me vibrated with it.

That same, discerning execution of understated uneasiness is deftly woven into every part of the design. The lighting by Shannon Struttman echoes the vacillating tone of the characters’ interactions. There’s a warmth to the moments between scenes: Fairy lights on the ceiling generate a golden glow that’s dim and almost romantic. But that glow is harshly soured by the blue-hued fluorescents that flicker into life as the action of scenes begin and the reality of the situation is brought back into sharp relief.

“What reality?” you may by now be wondering. “What the heck happens in this play?” But I am not going to tell you. I would not dare spoil one single plot point of this story for you. I wouldn’t dare.

I will, however, provide you with a few tantalizing tidbits and a carefully worded warning. This is a show to see twice. At $10 a ticket it is an understatement to say it is worth the price. The nature of the play, the skill of the actors and the physical demands of the thing promise fascinating dynamic shifts when the actors trade roles.

But this is not an endeavor to undertake lightly. There is a darkness and visceral danger in this material that could elicit some rather strong psychological responses. Gird your emotional loins.

In his curtain speech, Foundry founder Jason Alberty informs the audience that they intend to keep ticket prices low so that cost is never prohibitive for their patrons. As a spankin’ new non-profit, they rely on donations to help subsidize that cost. And they’ve made it easy for you to donate based on the quality of their work. Buckets bearing the labels “Good Show,” “Great Show” and “Holy Shit” allow you to rate performances with cold hard cash. They’ve also set up a bin titled “Talk to Me,” for uh, less than enthusiastic responses. That one, from what I saw, went empty on opening night.

I mention this here because I wish I had known about it before I arrived. When I come back next Friday, trust you me I’ll come bearing Holy Shit money. They earned it.

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