Arts Editor Riva Weinstein has worked on NOMADS shows twice before, but she was still more than pleasantly surprised when she went to see Thursday’s production of “Type B”, an original play written by Andy Jo and directed by Natasja Naarendorp.
The play opens with a scene from your last Friday night get-together: six friends lounge across the tables, chairs and floors of a small, well-lived-in apartment, pouring wine and talking over each other in a rapid, natural flow. We are introduced quickly to Grace (Vivian Zhou, BC ’21) and her girlfriend Soo-Young (Alex Haddad, BC ’21), who has just moved into the apartment; to Brianna (Angel Dudley, GS ‘19) and Jean (Jason Bowen, CC ‘21), lovers of performance and astrology alike; to Evan (Carina Goebelbecker, BC ’18), and Megan (Jordan Goodson, CC ‘18), who antagonizes the other characters as often as she encourages them.
Soo, originally from Korea, struggles to navigate the well-developed and intricate world of friendships she has stumbled into. Threads of friendship, love, tension, chemistry and awkwardness run through the characters in every direction, tangling and shifting, adding a sense of importance to each scene despite the lack of conventional plot. Though the runtime was long for a NOMADS show (almost 2 hours), my attention never strayed.
“We picked actors based on liking their voice,” says director Natasja Naarendorp (GS ’18), who has been involved with the show since it was only a handful of scenes presented at NOMADS’ Wordplay. “It wasn’t a static thing we had to just execute. It was alive, it was changing. We all kind of wrote it in the end.”
The script itself, I am told, wasn’t finalized until about two weeks before the show.
Each of the actors impressed me, but I was especially struck by Jordan Goodson’s performance as Megan: brazen, self-contradictory and sometimes vulnerable, her tension with Soo was the primary obstacle for Soo’s transition into the group. In one late-night scene, with a bewildered Soo looking on, Megan scarfs down cold noodles, comments offensively on Soo’s name, leaps on the table to hysterically debate with herself on whether astrology is racist, insists that she has put months of effort into liking Soo, and finally allows her to call her Meg.
Dudley and Bowen’s antics were memorable and professional-level funny; the audience was rolling on the ground with every mention of Brianna’s bad shoulder and Jean’s terrible French. Evan’s warm level-headedness provides a welcome contrast to her overdramatic friends, though a scene in which she and Soo prepare for a birthday party adds a spark of intrigue to her character. “Do you ever think you’re not boring – ” asks Soo, as Evan attempts to fit a string of paper letters onto the windowsill – “you’re just bored?”
Soo finds relief from the stifling, overcrowded apartment out on the fire escape, where she befriends her upstairs neighbor, the playful and enigmatic Millie (AJ McDougall, CC ’21). Their moments together – including a Rear Window-esque scene in which they postulate on the lives of the opposite building’s inhabitants – are some of the finest in the play. Soo’s anxieties over her Korean identity, her relationship with Grace, and her confusing past emerge under Millie’s prodding, highlighting Haddad and McDougall’s powerful acting as well as an extremely thoughtful script.
Naarendorp tells me that one of her primary concerns while directing was giving the actors room to play – never holding them to a strict, textual structure, but allowing room for improv, spontaneity and impulsive interaction with their surroundings.
It might be an exaggeration to say that the physical environment of Type B was the real star of the show, but as playwright Andy Jo (BC ’18) herself wrote in the program: “Everything finally clicked into place [when] I began to think about non-human objects as characters themselves.” Designed by Larry Parker (GS ’18), the set – which included a working refrigerator and microwave – was a New York apartment in every way, except that it was sitting on a stage. By contrast, the fire escape area was bare except for a pair of stage blocks, highlighting the liberating lack of presence during Soo and Millie’s scenes. Props designers Charis Lam (CC ’18) and Alli Salwen (BC ’21) provided the objects around which the action, relationships and tensions of the play truly revolved: noodles and tofu, cardboard boxes, Soo’s favorite book, and a bag of Cheetos eaten exclusively with chopsticks.
Though the music played during transition scenes was somewhat confusing, the sound design was otherwise excellent. How Sound Designer Arya Popescu (CC ’17, who is known for recording her own clips) managed to procure the mysterious gurgling, hissing and moaning noises which occasionally interrupt scenes is beyond me.
Despite a few moments of tonal dissonance and stiff acting, Type B was one of the best student-written plays I have seen on this campus. The characters leapt off the stage, more nuanced and contradictory than the usual constraints of theatrical text and narrative would allow. “All these people are people,” Naarendorp tells me. “We built them all.”
See Type B with your CUID for $5 tonight and tomorrow at 8pm in the Minor Latham Playhouse in Milbank.
Photos via Emma Noelle