“X” by Alistair McDowall understands the experience of claustrophobia at the core of its production. In its American premiere at Sideshow Theatre, the set design by Yu Shibagaki invokes sterility and emptiness before you’ve even finished taking your coat off or sat in the relatively comfy chairs at Victory Gardens. We’re here. We’re here with you but we don’t want to be.
Nobody here does. Not Gilda (Sarah Price), not Ray (H.B. Ward), or Clark (Gage Wallace), or Cole (Nate Whelden). Maybe the other two don’t either. But who’s to say? Maybe they wouldn’t exist. It’s Pluto. Then it’s X. Then it’s gone, a stand-in for a real number.
The marketing materials really nail the shape and plot of this show. While high-concept, with a dynamic method of plotting that never quite twists the knife, it slowly drives bored hysteria further into its observers. It makes a few asks of the audience but always with a sort of curious, guiding terror: Yeah, but what if it wasn’t just the wind blowing through?
That’s not to say “X” is boring. It’s clever, with funny one-liners, some scary, pulpy tension, and a sense of narrative experimentation that’s as dread-inducing and disorienting as it is philosophical, asking about the importance of place and time and memory to identity, both our own and in relation to others. If we don’t have our memories, than where do we draw the line between you and me? When even am I me and not you?
The show disintegrates your ideas of perceptible time (the clock is engrossingly uncertain) and reminds you that our minds and forms are fragile, set in gelatinous paste. And it does so in this stylish stew pot of anxiety and silence, served by a great cast. Two hours felt like all of two hours and yet so enjoyable. (Jay Van Ort)
Sideshow Theater Company at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 North Lincoln, (773)871-3000, sideshowtheatre.org. $15-$30. Through October 22