All fans of quirky theater are encouraged to flock to Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks, which typically runs from mid-May to the end of June. Each season, the Clubbed Thumb artistic team — currently spearheaded by Producing Artistic Director Maria Striar (who has been with Clubbed Thumb since their 1996 debut) and Associate Artistic Director Michael Bulgar — pore over hundreds of submissions seeking unique voices with something funny and insightful to say. Each final selection is carefully cultivated with precision and vision. As the company’s reputation has grown, so has their ability to attract superior acting and behind-the-scenes talent that can rapidly bring these challenging pieces to fruition. Many of these plays go on to lead fuller lives, including Men in Boats at Playwrights Horizons and The Wolves at Lincoln Center.
Their current production is Plano, which was commissioned by Clubbed Thumb for the 2017-18 Directing Fellowship. The director in question is Taylor Reynolds who, along with her outstanding cast, brings out every magical beat of Will Arbery’s script. Surreal images including a red ribbon independently descending a staircase and a Faceless Ghost (played with acrobatic aptitude by Brendan Dalton) are blended into the often funny story of three fairly realistic sisters. This authenticity is no doubt made possible by playwright Arbery being the only boy in a family of eight siblings. Genevieve, the eldest, is a stereotypical know-it-all. The youngest, Isabel, is coddled to the point of thinking she might be a saint. In between them is Anne, the often-overlooked middle child struggling to establish identity. Their simple lives of work and family are intruded upon by strangeness that might be a curse. The town of Plano is used almost Mad Lib-like to represent alternative mindsets which are open to interpretation. Time passes through the use of the phrase “it’s later.” And husbands split into multiple parts so that they can do the dishes while also dancing the night away.
The skill needed to pull off clipped dialogue that is based more on timing than on story cannot be overstated. Crystal Finn as Anne, Miriam Silverman as Genevieve and Susannah Flood as Isabel stay perfectly in tune with each other throughout the 75 minute runtime. They are wonderfully supported by Mary Schultz as their religious fanatic mother, Mary, Cesar J. Rosado as Anne’s gay husband, John, and most especially by Ryan King as multiple Steves all of whom are married to Genevieve. The far-seeing Ms. Reynolds pushes their characters’ oddball boundaries by using nearly every inch of the theater, including the exit aisle and the area beneath the stage. Elaborate fight scenes are expertly choreographed by Kelly Bartnik.
The rest of the creative team has kept things delightfully simple. The suggestion of a ranch house by scenic designer Daniel Zimmerman is given necessary mood changes by Isabella Byrd’s lighting and Mark Van Hare’s sound design. Stephanie Levin’s costumes are casual and, most importantly, move well.
With its basic human experience infused with mystical adventure, Plano is unlikely to be confused with anything else you’ve seen. It is being presented at The Wild Project, 195 E. 3rd St. This column is based on the June 21 performance, at which point performances were being added to the schedule and it was anticipated there would be a few modifications made to the production. For tickets and the latest information visit https://www.clubbedthumb.org/productions/2018/.