How much of our lives do we spend on the telephone? Which is worse: living life or talking about it? Telephone: A Prequel to a Love Story is a smart, quick-moving, three-person show that pulls in video to advance the plot and underline what's going on and frequently makes sly fun of theatrical conventions. The work, by Alex Talks and Harper Lee (who occasionally covers theater for CityBeat) is being presented at the Art Academy.
The lights are so low in the opening few minutes that the audience strains to follow. It’s an effective way to capture our attention. Two men enter, one in office attire and one in a bathrobe, each with telephone, neither of which seems to be working. They are quickly joined by a woman in full voice on her phone, which certainly is working, but then they all hang up, metaphorically speaking, wheel around and leave the stage, taping a line down the middle as they go. Each man portray only one person, but actress Emma Greer takes on all the female roles: Boss, Carrie, Dylan's mom.
That taped line separates Kyle (Dylan Shelton) and his office cubicle, from Dylan (Ben Dudley), whose bed/site is furnished with just that: bed (mattress on the floor) and chair. Oh, and a wastebasket. Plus the scattered pages of his novel, which go in and out of the wastebasket. When Kyle, in his line of work with a collection agency, calls Dylan about $10,000 owed on a credit card, we learn the full name is Dylan Thomas, although he's not that Dylan Thomas, a little joke that echoes through the play.
Telephone might be the prequel to a love story. But on the way there, it shows the seemingly assured character, Kyle, taking on the scary attributes of the basket-case character, Dylan, while Dylan becomes more engaged, more ready for the world. Dylan hasn't left his tiny apartment for some months and subsists on Chinese food delivered to his door. As Kyle disintegrates, Dylan pulls himself together against all odds and with the undoubted help of the odd friendship that has developed in his phone conversations with Kyle.
Dudley is a very physical actor. As Dylan he is up and down from his mattress and from his chair and all but bouncing off the invisible walls of his tiny room. He can wrap himself in his raspberry-colored comforter in a whisk, hidden however ineffectively from all that bedevils him. Shelton’s Kyle is a man going nowhere, we quickly understand; he plays him with nuanced gravity. Greer takes on her three characters with relish and makes them as individual as she can within the confines of the play, which really require that they be stereotypical.
Telephone is high-level Fringe material, tightly written, well acted, cleverly developed.
PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE: 9:15 p.m. Monday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Find more of CityBeat's ongoing 2013 Cincy Fringe Festival coverage, including performance reviews, commentary and venue details, here.