Somewhere in the vast expanse of tired metaphors, the thought has just hit me that theater can feel a whole lot like fishing. They share a meditative quality, alongside a similar but different state of removing oneself from the world. Theater provides you the tools for self-reflection. Fishing provides silence and space, with moments of tension and excitement spread few and far between. But self-reflection? Well, hook the bait and cast off into that big blue wet thing and let your thoughts go where they will. You’re on your own with that one.
Your feelings on the art of fishing (and maybe even the art of theater) will largely dictate your enjoyment and appreciation of Audrey Cefaly’s “The Gulf” at About Face Theatre, a ninety-minute two-hander set in real time on a small boat in the Gulf of Mexico. Kendra (Kelli Simpkins) and Betty (Deanna Myers) spend the majority of the play flirting, fighting, laughing, reminiscing and wondering out loud about what their lives have amounted to. Betty feels trapped by the limitations of her Alabama town. Kendra craves loneliness and solitude over the potential heartbreak that comes with friendship and companionship.
The often-languid and always human nature of “The Gulf” rests in the intimate, in-the-round setting of Joe Schermoly’s scenic design, including a boat that moves in a 360-degree fashion throughout the show’s running time. Director Megan Carney’s production features metal buckets filled with water placed around the boat to represent the shallows of the Alabama Delta, while fishing nets create the walls of our setting. Paired with Rachel Levy’s subtle lighting design, we’re gifted with an atmosphere suited for the imaginative theatrical realm, all the better to contain what is essentially two people sitting in a boat for an hour-and-a-half.
Simpkins and Myers bring depth and humanity to two complex characters, equal parts lovable and unbearable, like most people. There is a lovely balance in this boat, with Myers bringing a lightness and airiness to combat Simpkins’ grounded, earthy grouchiness. They’re perfect in convincing us how these two have easily fallen in love with each other and how easily they are drifting away. Their love feels real and raw and fragile in that scariest of ways.
“The Gulf” is hilarious and heartbreaking and contains enough outstanding elements to ensure a positive audience response over the course of its run. But I keep returning to that fishing metaphor, which is where “The Gulf” ultimately sits for me. The rhythm is slow, smooth and contains a lot of space. I’m still wrestling with whether I was truly hooked by the understated nature of this play. If nothing else, I’m grateful for the silence and space. There’s a lot to think about these days. (Ben Kaye)
About Face Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont, (773)975-8150, aboutfacetheatre.com, $32. Through February 15.