A bottle of Jack, a pack of Marlboros, and a gram of weed a day; a surefire recipe for the easy life, or at the very least one that will keep the doctor away— away from saying that you’ll live a long and prosperous life. BOOM Theatre Company presents The Journey of Thing Three, a new work Written and Directed by Joshua Fletcher. The semi-autobiographical work explores the relationship of two brothers that struggle through the trials and tribulations that life has to offer, focused through the lenses of substance addiction, love and loss, and the vessel of a phlebotonum— the swirly Seussian bowl in which the brothers smoke up their stash to cope with the situations they don’t understand.
After the recent departure of the company’s founding Artistic Director Ryan Anthony Nicotra, this new work is showcasing what the current acting AD— Joshua Fletcher— has to provide to the company. The fact that BOOM is willing to take a chance on new work with Fletcher’s piece is a testament to the company’s mission statement. Giving new playwrights a chance to producer their work gives them the chance to flourish and thrive and grow, learning from the process— a crucial component to theatre living and blossoming in the Baltimore area.
Fletcher’s work has a great deal of issues that make it unsuitable for staging, but the attempt to bring it to its feet in a full-length two-act play is a valiant one. The narrative tone of the overall story speaks to that of a biographical story rather than a play and often times the dialogue is clunky and feels unnatural. Fletcher’s main problem is in capturing the recreation of real-life events. In an attempt to stay realistically true to form, the conversations between Ezekiel— the character representing himself— and his brother Ansel often sound contrived and carry on for much longer than is natural. Once the play progresses into fictional territory— going beyond the events of factual reality and into a yet-to-exist future, Fletcher develops dramatic tension and interesting depth with the characters.
The play itself has pacing issues. Some of the longer dialogue intense scenes, most of which occur between Ezekiel (Ben Hill) and Ansel (Anthony Chanov) crawl along, which unfortunately creates many opportunities for the audience to lose interest in the action of the story. Fletcher’s inclusion of videography between scenes is a good idea in theory but fails in its execution. Taking snippets of the cast— and random other company members serving as unnamed extras— doing various and sundry activities and broadcasting them in-between the scene changes should assist in real-time passage and serve to keep the play moving along. Unfortunately these video sequences feel strange and drag the play further along, owing partially to the already laborious pacing of the show’s main movements.
Fletcher does craft a perfect scene to end the show, just after a climactic emotional moment shared between Hill and Chanov’s characters. This pivotal moment would give the show a strong conclusion and truncate the show’s running length in addition to providing profundity to the character’s missions. The show carries on for several scenes thereafter, unfortunately most of which feel superfluous and contrived. Fletcher’s main characters lack depth but where he succeeds in character creation is with the minor supporting figures of the show. His construction of Alex (as played with gusto by Josh Marshall) is wildly entertaining. Alex appears briefly in one scene but he feels fully fleshed out and his story, though limited, is intensely fascinating. This is also true of the supporting character of Mickey (played to a caricature peak of amusing involvement by Dustin Horsman.)
Chanov and Hill carry a great deal of the show’s primary conflict, particularly Hill as he is the protagonist force that drives the story forward. With vivid facial expressions and a bombastic approach to his more emotionally invested moments, Hill demonstrates verve in addition to emotional understanding throughout the performance. Playing well off Chanov, who provides a level-headed balance board for Hill’s raging emotions, the pair works through some touching and heartfelt conflicts that arise throughout the course of the show.
Other noteworthy performances, in addition to Marshall and Horsman’s eye-popping supporting roles, include Jennifer Hasselbusch as a southern nurse deployed overseas and later as the feisty and fiery Thea. Beca Wiseman, who plays Ezekiel and Ansel’s mother, also gives a well-rounded performance despite her character’s limited stage time.
While the show itself needs a great deal of work, and may have been better served as a workshop piece rather than a fully mounted staged production, it is important that this show was given the opportunity to be up on its feet in front of a life audience. BOOM enables artists like Joshua Fletcher to experience this crucial development process so that new innovative live theatre can continue to be created and exist in major metropolitan areas like Baltimore.
Running Time: 2 hours and 50 minutes with one intermission
The Journey of Thing Three plays through September 12, 2015 at BOOM Theatre Company at the Unitarian Universalists of Fallston— 1127 Old Fallston Road in Fallston, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online.