It’s not easy to make an audience feel genuinely uncomfortable – in a good sort of way – but that’s exactly what William Goulet achieves with the world-premiere* of his play, filler.
Socio-philosophical conundrums abound in this very crafty piece of theatre, where power dynamics between people are stretched and swapped and layered and twisted in an endless variety of interesting ways.
At the center we have Adler, played by Ross Pivec, a grown man so meek he can’t even bare to open his front door when someone knocks. Pivec gives a superbly natural performance, rich with humanity and grace, despite his character’s achingly painful social shortcomings.
His domineering wife Marian, played by the lovely Gabriele Schafer, is a powerhouse of raw feeling who made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. She rides Marian’s arc from a desperate woman on the verge of boiling over all the way down to the depths of her own personal hell without skipping a single detail along the way. Watching her play the role of Marian is like watching Michelangelo build a cathedral – one brick at a time. (The only difference is that Marian’s cathedral comes crashing down at the end!)
The two of them have a dazzling interaction on stage. Goulet likes to play with our sentiments and confuse us about which character we like and which we don’t and why. At one moment, Pivec appears to be simply flawed and Schafer caring and almost motherly, but in the next, Pivec seems to be the voice of reason, while Schafer’s priorities have led her morally astray.
This sort of oscillation is an area that live theatre can handle better than almost any other artistic medium, and Goulet, the playwright, shows us how it’s done.
Minshew brings a truth to his portrayal of the neighborly carpenter that is transportive. He is straightforward, yet deeply nuanced, eminently trustworthy, and also a little frightening. Hyland shows us a tenderness and sensitivity that will warm your heart before he breaks it. His expressions alone are so on point that I imagine he could carry his role just as well if all his lines were cut.
The two together, like Pivec and Schafer, offer us a roundabout journey into the complexities of power dynamism, themselves constantly trading places between sweetly compassionate and utterly cruel.
Additionally, the set was amazing. Kudos are due to Christopher and Justin Swader, who created a beautifully immersive environment in which the tale could unfold.
The only aspect that consistently brought me back out of the story was the blocking. And, oddly, it’s not because it was baffling or inappropriate – but rather because I kept noticing it.
When a character crosses here or there, it should be so natural and obvious that one doesn’t consider it consciously, like when you get up from your desk to get a cup of coffee. You want coffee, and it’s over there. But if your body language reads “I would like some coffee now, and I see it’s on the counter over there. Let me just push by chair back, stand on my legs here, and swivel myself over, and…” then the illusion is lost. It only takes a fraction of slight deliberation to make an action appear “acted.”
There were also a couple moments when I felt the dialogue stretched the action of the story out a bit too far, but that could be my playwright’s nitpicking.
Ultimately, filler is a lovely example of how the power of theatre can inflict introspection upon its audience, and cause us to examine our own lives through the lives of its characters. And the exceedingly talented crew behind this show make it a pleasure to watch.
There are only a few shows left, so don’t forget to get your tickets here!
*An earlier version of the play was performed over a decade ago in Georgia, but the show has since undergone substantial changes.