Get ready to go toe to toe with two terrific actors in the fast moving and highly entertaining Square Go. (A “Square Go” is a Scottish term for an all-out fist fight.) Max has made an unfortunate remark that received the wrong kind of attention from local bully-in-chief Danny Guthrie. Now he’s been challenged to fight it out in the playground. Max’s best friend, the affable and slightly dim Stevie, stands firmly at his friend’s back But his support will be limited to the moral kind. The audience is therefore invited to participate in Max’s preparation for an almost certain pummeling at Danny’s bigger and more experienced hands. As we contribute our cheers and a hand or two, we learn the key turning points that led to this undesirable moment in Max’s short life.
Several components put this slice-of-life tale in a class above most two-handers. The writing by Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair is poignant, humorous, and well edited. Both Daniel Portman (Poderick Payne on Game of Thrones) and Gavin Jon Wright (Black Watch with the National Theatre of Scotland) turn in wonderfully layered performances. Wearing boxing shorts and tank tops which fully display bodies that obviously did not just emerge from the New York Sports Club next door to the theater, they perfectly capture the awkwardness of their youthful characters.
What stands out even more is the viewpoint, with the action moving seamlessly from a school, to various locations around small-town Scotland, to inside the characters’ heads, to inside the theater. The entire creative process used to tell the story is imaginative and well executed. The setting is a simple square imbedded on the floor. The rest of the background is filled in with a soundscape and lighting. The lights designed by Peter Small, props developed by Martha Mamo, and original soundtrack provided by members of Frightened Rabbit are integral to Wright’s remarkable portrayal of multiple characters. Portman has the tougher job of bringing variation to the more straightforward role of the downtrodden Max.
Director Finn Den Hertog, who won a Scotsman Fringe First Awards for this production, has staged the entire piece within the square with the audience on all four sides just like a wrestling arena. The energy builds from the close proximity and the physical containment of the actors. The players’ interactions with the audience — which can often be awkward — are carefully crafted and skillfully managed. There’s no room for bad moods or poor sportsmanship from the crowd. You’ll be required to keep your feet out of their space and your head in their game.
Arriving at a time when toxic masculinity is being reevaluated by all genders, Square Go presents a universal story in a singular fashion. Though the details of Max’s journey may be particular to him, the experience of trying to find one’s place in the world is one that everyone can understand. Performances run through June 30 in Theater C at 59E59. Tickets are $25 ($20 for members) and seating is general admission. Running time is 60 minutes, with no intermission. To purchase or for more information, call the 59E59 Box Office at 646-892-7999 or visit www.59e59.org.