The buzz in the lobby after the world-premiere opening of Jeff Daniels’15th play was buoyant. Everyone seemed to love it – the fast patter, the amazing physical humor, the engaging audience interaction. But the sheer pleasure of experiencing this play was followed by a slow panic. What do we tell our friends who want to know what it’s about? And what, exactly, is “it”?
In fact, defining “it” seems to be the main action of the play, a fascinating, gymnastic performance by “A,” played by Matthew Gwynn, and “B,” played by Michael Brian Ogden. A and B exist in a limbo stasis that A refuses to leave and B argues cannot be sustained. The characters discuss the world “out there” (with all the pain and the joy of human existence) and “in here” (comfortable isolation) while debating the meaning of almost everything. But if this sounds like a lost Beckett play, re-imagine it performed by The Marx Brothers. If it’s Hamlet’s great soliloquy, substitute “to be or not to be” with classic lyrics from The Clash: “If I go there will be trouble, An' if I stay it will be double.” It’s all the big themes, performed without reverence or sentimentality or ersatz spirituality.
Gwynn and Ogden deliver brilliant performances and deserve some sort of award for sheer stamina. The pace of this comedy is incredible and it’s achieved without benefit of an intermission. This is a funny play, but it’s not a silly play. The laughter is almost non-stop. Almost. But the dialogue is riddled with truths and conundrums and pain. Is life worth living? There are no pat answers.
Here’s what Jeff Daniels says about “The Meaning of Almost Everything”:
I've never been one to think whatever may come after this life will be better. One can always hope and pray and believe, sure, but given the choice between the known and the unknown, frankly, it seems a lot of us would rather just stay put, thank you very much. That's the "What if...?" that drove the writing on this one. How do we turn this life of ours into an everlasting one? Forget leaving a legacy or living on in other people's memories, I mean staying put. Right here, right now, forever and ever. That it doesn't work that way is the conflict in the play. And in us.
We love Jeff Daniels’s comedies. But we didn’t know he had this one in him. It’s something more. We’re not sure we could define exactly what, but we’re sure you should see it, think about it, and enjoy it.
“The Meaning of Almost Everything” runs through March 9, 2013, with performances Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 3 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m. All performances will be held at The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park Street, in Chelsea. Ticket reservations can be made online or by calling The Purple Rose Theatre Company Box Office at (734) 433-7673.