One of the great pleasures of interviewing people who love
their work is watching how talking about what they care about transforms
them. This is sort of what Adam Bock's one-act The Typographer's
Dream is about, but then it turns out to be about a lot of other
things too, such as friendship and honesty. And, of course, Canada.
Because all the best plays are really about Canada, eh?
Encore Theatre Company ran Dream at San Francisco's Thick House
last year, where the Chronicle named it one of 2005's "Top
Ten Theater Events in the Bay Area." And no wonder: It's smart,
offbeat, and hilarious, charming without being schmaltzy. Happily,
Encore decided to bring it home to the Shotgun Players, who have
been staunch Bock supporters for years, producing his Swimming in
the Shallows and The Fairy's Tail while he was a company member.
Even more happily, Encore brought over the original director and
all the original actors too. Aimée Guillot, Jamie Jones,
and Michael Shipley play three people — a typographer, a geographer,
and a stenographer — who love their work, if not necessarily
their jobs. Ranged along a long table facing the audience, they
might be giving a Career Day presentation, but their careful patter
rapidly breaks down as their relationships come to the fore. A space
painted black and skeletally marked with white tape to indicate
furniture, stairs, and doorways becomes a crucible under Anne Kauffman's
Margaret describes how the printed word is breath made solid. Annalise
wonders why Poland is always colored yellow on maps and bustles
on- and offstage to find visual aids. Dave proudly, tenderly shows
off his StenoCAT machine, and admits that he prefers "court
reporter" to "stenographer" because the first sounds
"more glamorous." Or, as he intones, "Being a court
reporter is a privilege, not a right." You can't help but love
them for their devotion to something; even the one who hates the
workplace still loves the idea of the work, the promise of being
able to change how people feel, how the world itself works.
East Bay audiences are probably most likely to recognize Guillot,
who played the ditzy sister in the Berkeley Rep's Big Love a few
years back and the Loud Stone in 2004's Eurydice. Once again she's
funny seemingly despite herself; nearly going over the handlebars
of her bike as she makes her entrance, her Margaret is a rolling,
crashing mess in love with the word "frickin'." Bock takes
his sweet time telling us what her problem is, but she clearly has
one, and it makes her snappish and volatile. There's a gorgeous,
potent moment of tension after Margaret has lost her shit near the
end when she and Annalise lock eyes and you remember why live theater
is special, the audience breathing in time with the combatants.
Jamie Jones is an absolute stitch. Playing a sinuously drunk Annalise,
she tells Dave that her critical nature is a blessing and a curse
— "a blessing for me, a curse for everyone else,"
before breaking unexpectedly into what appears to be the '60s go-go
dance the Monkey. Almost prim at first, Annalise is the most surprising
of the three. Geography is "a dangerous science," she
confides. "Maybe that's why they hid it in social studies ...
geographers are impolitic, we chronicle consequences."
But the consequences of something Annalise has said to Dave are
the pin on which Michael Shipley's character turns. Precise and
bright-eyed, Dave is about to melt into his job and his relationship,
perhaps never to be seen again. "I've been putting myself over
there," he muses in an unguarded moment. "Where have I
been this whole time?" Shipley speaks volumes with subtle eye
and hand movements, justifying the intimate confines of the former
church the Shotgunners call home.
You just want to roll around in Bock's language, where words like
"cedilla" become exotic gems, and repetition, syncopation,
and judicious puns reward the listener. While this work is more
realistic than earlier Bock pieces we've seen in the East Bay —
nobody goes on a date with a shark here, or has his or her family
smushed by a giant's foot — the playwright's whimsy and freshness
still shines through. Faintly reminiscent of Errol Morris's 1997
documentary Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, where four men who
love their quirky work try to explain why, The Typographer's Dream
at the Ashby Stage is a sheer delight of pauses, twitches, and surprising