How a new comedy makes palindromes from more than just words
"I've never [astral projected] -- sounds horrifying!"
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Palindromes produce some delightful turns of phrase. "Madam, I'm Adam;" "Able was I, ere I saw Elba;" and a real kingpin: "Go hang a salami! I'm a lasagna hog."
People interested in palindromes tend to be of a particular set – dads, word enthusiasts, theatre folk. Title:Point, a nine-year-old Brooklyn-based theatre company, is among those ranks. Their latest offering – Never Odd or Even
, which runs at the Brick Theater
through September 19 – not only has a palindrome for a title, but also takes the concept of the-same-thing-forwards-and-backwards to new theatrical levels.
"We're always interested in wordplay," says director Theresa Buchheister. "Our work tends to have a lot of pratfalls and campy violence. For Never Odd or Even
we wanted to write a constraint-based play."
While palindromes offer a serious constraint, Buchheister and friends – she co-wrote the show with Ryan William Downey, Scott Ries, and Spencer T. Campbell – also asked themselves how the linguistic concept might apply to music, movement, and character. Enter astral projections, wherein a person travels outside their body and then returns.
"Basically you separate your body from your soul, and the spirit is released into the universe," says Buchheister. With a chuckle, she adds, "I've never done it – sounds horrifying! But something about the exiting and returning to one's body seemed fitting with palindromes."
The cast of "Never Odd or Even"
The five characters in the play also fall under a kind of palindromic structure. "Character 1 is a reflection of Character 5, and 2 and 4 reflect each other. That leaves 3 as the central character," Buchheister says, adding that Character 3 undergoes a Joseph Campbell-esque hero's journey. "Our stuff is weird but never unnecessarily so. We've always got a narrative."
So just what is the story arc in Never Odd or Even
? It's about Character 3's reluctance to leave his body despite being miserable in it. "He finds himself dying in different ways," says Buchheister. "So every time he approaches death, he kind of quantum leaps into another existence, and the other four characters are pulled along with him. The only problem is that they are always trying to kill each other in these other lives."
Delving into the astral projection layer of the play proved to be a useful dramaturgical tool for the team. Buchheister explains, "For a lot of plays it's build, build, build, climax, and then maybe denouement. But for this play the peak has to be precisely in the middle. So we kept asking, 'How can this be dramatically satisfying?'"
On that front, the astral projections come in handy, since the return
to one's body is perhaps even more petrifying than the exit.
Meanwhile, as the characters torpedo from one time and space to the next, they encounter dead playwrights, famous mathematicians, and a creature called Ogo Pogo, a snake-like version of the Loch Ness Monster. "Ogo Pogo is physically a monster and eats everyone - the humor is very slapstick, very Benny Hill," says Buchheister.
That kind of comedy is typical for a Title:Point production. "The way to not lose yourself in the awful void of existence is to joke," she explains. "We always try to toe the line of 'This is horrific!' and 'This is hilarious!' We want to surprise people and make them feel a spectrum of things that they weren't expecting to feel, whether it's laughter or abject terror."
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Eliza Bent is a Brooklyn-based playwright and reporter who regularly covers off-Off Broadway theatre for TDF Stages.
Photos by Walter Wlodarczyk. Top photo: The cast of Never Odd Or Even.