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Tesseract Brings British Comedy to St. Louis with Coupler

The Tesseract Theatre Company opened their 2017-2018 season last night with a performance of Coupler, written by Meredith Dayna Levy.  The play follows six Londoners, two buskers, and one interjecting tube train, riding in the last car of the Northern Line.

Each scene brings a new day and new developments in the lives of these people on their commutes.  Sadie and Christopher meet randomly in the car and show how a brief moment in time can follow you for months thereafter.  Two friends, Emily and Celeste, share their experiences with relationships and trying to get ahead at work.  Glenn and Samantha deal with a family crisis and begin the work of trying to rebuild themselves.  And the Northern Line herself?  Well, she’s like the interfering aunt who means well, but can’t seem to stay out of other people’s business.  Add in two buskers who sing songs of love between some of the scenes, and you’ve got the makings of a heartfelt journey.  These people’s lives do overlap in other ways too, but describing those would give away too much of the story.

The set is simple and effective.  Instead of performing on the traditional stage, a makeshift tube car is set up in the house with two rows of seats for audience members along two sides.  It’s an intimate space for sure.  But the play lends itself well to being performed in this manner.  The overhead lighting does a nice job, considering the performance is essentially lit to be in the round.  Even the LED lighting on the floor changes with the arrival and departures of each of the train stations (no easy technical task).  On the minimal framework representing the shell of the car, there are strings of what looks like Christmas lights.  I didn’t understand the purpose of having these lights there.  Of course, I haven’t ridden in a tube car in years, so it may actually be an element of the car itself that I can’t remember.  But what distracted me most about them is when they flashed in a repeating pattern when the buskers came on the car to sing.  In a way, it almost took me out of the story.

When being seated before the play, I was asked if I wanted to ride on the train during the performance.  I declined, but many others took the opportunity.  Between some of the scenes, the usher would come and direct the audience members to leave their regular seats and have a seat on the set.  Then they would be directed back to their seats after their time riding the train was done.  I do understand the reasoning behind wanting to do this, and I think it’s a fun element for the audience to have a more intimate experience with the production.  But we were already sitting so close to the performers, I’m not sure how necessary it was.  The only reason I say this is because it was the one thing that slowed down the pacing of the show.  The usher had to take the time to bring the people on and off while nothing else was happening.  And it did break the illusion of what I was watching a bit.

The performances in the ensemble were wonderful.  They worked well together and all of their relationships were convincing.  I did have a few problems with volume and diction with a couple of the performers, but it was minimal and I never felt like I missed anything.  Hats off to Amanda Brasher as the Northern Line.  Aside from interjecting her running commentary about the folks riding the train, she had to manage to announce all of the arrivals and departures of the train stations.  And she did it without taking any focus away from the other action or drowning out their voices.

The direction and staging by Katie Palazzola were perfect.  She made it interesting and fun to watch these people move about in a small space.  No one ever seemed to be on top of each other and the pacing was great.  It’s a relatively short play, running about an hour and fifteen minutes with no intermission.  The stories did seem to wrap up a bit too quickly for my liking.  But I enjoyed where the characters ended up.

Overall, it was a nice way to spend an hour and a half.  The play isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s a nice piece of theatre and it’s done well.  Coupler continues its run this weekend and next.  For tickets or more information, please visit http://www.tesseracttheatre.org/.

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