Open Book’s ‘Random Things’ connects, and connects, and connects
TRENTON, Mich.–The characters in This Random World: The Myth of Serendipity clearly aren’t on Facebook. If they were, they would certainly have known one another via the “mutual friends” feature.
We have Scottie (Karen Minard), a woman of a certain age who is infirmed, her two adult children, Beth (Kez Settle) and Tim (Joshua Brown), her caretaker Bernadette (Krystle Dellihue), Bernadette’s sister Rhonda (Kryssy Becker), Tim’s ex girlfriend Claire (Alysia Kolascz) and Claire’s ex boyfriend Gary (Tim Pollack).
The story is how these people find themselves connected in the world without knowing that the hub of their spokes is Scotty. This premise is carried all the way to Japan where Scotty’s daughter Beth and Bernadette’s sister Rhonda meet randomly at a shrine, and that is after Beth encounters Gary by chance in Nepal.
This is “it’s a small world after all” syndrome run amok in Steven Dietz’s one-act play. But the intertwined random story and connections here have a purpose, even as the actual story seems like a prop at times to make a much bigger point.
The play was written before people’s lives changed with the Covid-19 pandemic, and the isolation that bought for many, but after the division in the U.S. was clear and irreparable along political tribal lines, with families divided based on allegiance to Barack Obama or white Republicans.
We are connected, whether we like it, or believe it, or not. We are connected through people, geography, environment. We are connected by virtue of the fact that we are all here, breathing, walking, sharing space, economy and air. And if we could open our hearts, as well as our eyes and ears, we’d find we are connected in other, important and personal ways.
There is a thread running through the play of death. Why not? It is, after all, a universal experience. And it is also the thing that absolutely connects people no matter where they live, what church they go to, what social media platform they are on, or who they voted for. Beth dictates her obituary to Tim before going off to Nepal. Tim tinkers online with an obituary of a man who has the same name as his, and Claire and others think it is the Tim in our story who died. Scotty is sick, presumably with cancer, and so her demise is imminent.
The set design by Stephanie Baugher and adapted by Bradly Byrne, and lighting by Harley Miah for This Random World is curious and effective. The Open Book space is dominated by a deck with different levels, literally not unlike a deck on the back of someone’s house. This facilitates the different vignettes to have their own space in the performance areas. Lighting includes vertical LEDs above the space and across the back wall to at times represent rain by having the lights chase downward. Rain is an apt symbol in this story–it hits everyone the same way, no matter color or economic station. Rain is the great leveler in nature. Just ask two neighbors who vote for opposite political parties, but get hit by the same storm.
Krista Schafer Ewbank directs, and handles sound and props, as well.
Casting of the Random World merits a comment. For the past year and a half, there has been a lively and productive discussion in the Michigan theatre community about race – everything from casting inequities to feelings of inclusion by people of color to outright charges of racism. It is a difficult topic for many, especially for those accused of behaving unfairly or in a way that otherwise makes people of color or non-binary gender feel uncomfortable or unwelcome.
Schafer Ewbank cast an African-American actress, Minard, as mother to two characters played by white actors. She cast an African-American actress, Dellihue, sister to Becker’s character who is white. This is not “color-blind” casting, but rather “color-transcendent” casting. It follows a principle that you can cast across racial lines without having these racial differences accounted for in the script.
Following this principle should, if widely adopted, greatly improve the community to a true meritocracy in casting, and enable a far higher degree of inclusion.
Open Book Theatre has long brought the community a diverse and at times eclectic choice of plays, and thus has been a leader among Michigan theatres in presenting new works. It’s not unexpected, then, to see the company leading by example as we all return to taking in live in-person theatre.
Random Things at times, by virtue of Dietz’s occasionally over-wrought dialogue, tries too hard to be profound. But at its core, the play does remind us of a profound and indelible truth – we are definitely connected no matter what social media, or our own legacies may tell us to the contrary.