Foursquare's on-stage game of love and loss shines with simple elegance and rawemotion
Manuel Zarate’s production of Foursquare, being performed at the Blue Theatre during the Frontera Festival Long Fringe this season, is a finely crafted work of theater. Do you remember the game from recesses of your youth? A square is drawn on the concrete then divided into four smaller squares ranked one to four. You grab a dodgeball, and then seek to vanquish your opponents and rise to the number one square. If you can’t return a volley then you slide back to square number four. You remember, right?
The stage of Foursquare is black and empty save for the chalk outline of the foursquare game. Three players enter the space with childlike and joyful energy. They volley looks and emotions at one another, and switch squares in rapid succession, no one ever sharing a square with anyone else. This is just a dream, a metaphor for the play which is to come, but the structure remains. Not until the final moments of the play are any two characters truly together in one space.
We first meet Beverley (Ann Catherine Pittman) and David (J. Ben Wolfe), strangers who happen upon one another and strike up casual conversation as they wait for a late night bus on the corner of an Austin street. Each person is wary and secretive. Beverley is oddly barefoot and wearing a men’s sports coat. Her speech seems slurred and exactly why she is there is complicated and mysterious. David seems to be a more straightforward fellow. He is heading to his young daughter’s birthday party. Wait, it's late night, right? What is real here?
All three actors remain on the set throughout the performance, which slips seamlessly in time and space, weaving between past and present, hope and fear and pain.
We are also witness to the raw and uncomfortable stand-up performance of the third player in this game, Bill (Douglas Taylor). To some extent Bill’s honest and awkward contemplation of relationships is a narrative for the play.
He gives us context and prods us to look more deeply. He is a man lost in a new world of dating after a painful betrayal and divorce. He exposes his pain and fears to an audience of strangers hidden in the dark, while out on the dark street, Beverley and David’s pain and fears drive them toward a violent resolution.
We eventually learn that Bill and Beverley had met earlier in the evening. She wears his coat, and her shoes have disappeared somewhere in the crowd at the comedy club. We see flashbacks of their meeting. There is a tender tentative nature to their encounter, a budding romance. Through her revelations we learn of the betrayals she too has suffered, from lovers past and from her own body.
Despite their individual fears, it seems that they both might just be willing to take the risk to love again. It is David’s pain and fear that have the most power here. David, we learn, is the betrayer. He is a haunted man, full of pain and shame. The resolution of his story changes all three lives forever.
Foursquare is a powerful piece brought beautifully to life in this production. All three actors remain on the set throughout the performance, which slips seamlessly in time and space, weaving between past and present, hope and fear and pain. We feel that this little box of chalk has been lifted out of the world and the lives of these three people in a pivotal moment in time exposed for poetical detail.
How do we connect with another human being? What is love? Why do we let ourselves get hurt? There are no easy answers to the questions raised in Foursquare's exploration of love and loss.
There is one more opportunity to catch this production of Foursquare at the festival. It will be playing at the Blue Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 4 at 9:15 p.m. Of course, if you miss it at Frontera Fringe, the show — which is sponsored by The Creative Fund and HBMG Foundation — will be heading to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August. I hear Scotland is beautiful that time of year!