Theater review: Schenectady Civic Players production explores our ‘Random’ yet parallel paths

Sara Paupini and Jason Biszick in “This Random World” at Schenectady Civic Playhouse. (photo provided)

Sara Paupini and Jason Biszick in “This Random World” at Schenectady Civic Playhouse. (photo provided)

SCHENECTADY — Steven Dietz’s 2016 play “This Random World,” now in a superb production at Schenectady Civic Playhouse, is subtitled “The Myth of Serendipity,” suggesting there may be more than chance going on in life; that is, is there a guiding principle or hand in the universe at work, one we are too unaware to see? Perhaps mystics know about it, right? Or those with what we call a sixth sense?

By turns humorous, startling, sweet and sad, this intermissionless series of scenes follows the lives of siblings Tim and Beth Ward (Jason Biszick and Sara Paupini); their mother, Scottie (Joanne Westervelt); Claire (Laura Graver); Gary (Gabriel Hage); and Scottie’s caregivers, sisters Bernadette and Rhonda (Karen Kolterman and Jennifer Van Iderstyne, respectively).

At one point or another they encounter each other, but never know that they’re connected — with fewer than six degrees of separation, actually. But the audience knows, so a little dramatic irony is at play, leading us to think “If only they knew.”

But the beauty part of Dietz’s gentle script is that this situation probably happens all the time to us in real life. Ah, those manipulating Greek gods!

Each of the roughly dozen scenes — always an encounter between two characters only — revolves around familiar issues: parents and children, love, adventure, the meaning of work and, of course, death, which hovers over everything.

Director Cristine Loffredo, who has participated in many SCP productions over the years, appears here as SCP director for the first time, aided by assistant director Mark Stephens and producer Kathy Friscic. So familiar is Loffredo with the talent in Schenectady that she has, of course, surrounded herself with a tech team and performers of the first rank. And she has paced each episode very well, and connected the set changes smoothly and meaningfully. Kudos.

Sound designer Van Iderstyne has created a subtle and effective underscore, including music, rain and wind. So, too, does veteran Don Mealy enhance each scene with apt lighting gestures. Duncan Morrison’s abstract set design makes empty picture frames, mirrors and windows all possible. Marcia Thomas’ costumes, Elise N. Charlebois’s props and Marty O’Connor’s stage management (and brief cameo) maintain the high production standards of

SCP. (The faux People magazine, however, was a distraction at Sunday’s matinee.)

The actors splendidly create this array of characters looking for meaning. Karen Kolterman’s Bernadette has been the adored child, first by her mother and now by Scottie, for whom she’s a caregiver. But Kolterman allows us to see a quiet woman living, perhaps, in the shadows of a full life.

Hage and Paupini create a funny and tender moment in a scene in Nepal; Graver delivers a couple of tour-de-force monologues, in which she laments, with humor and pathos, “I suck at life”; Biszick’s Tim is more acted upon than acting, and a clumsy attempt to find himself in his mid-30s backfires: Biszick captures the poignance; Van Iderstyne and Paupini share a moving scene in Tokyo, with Van Iderstyne providing the audience with cathartic tears; and Westervelt, with shiny eyes and hands searching the air, is captivating as the family matriarch who has seen it all and gets up every morning to appreciate more of it.

I’ll be going over bits of the script and details of the performances in my head for some time, so rich is the experience of “This Random World.”

‘This Random World’

WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 S. Church St.

WHEN: Nov. 17-21

HOW MUCH: $20

MORE INFO: 518.382.2081; civicplayers.org

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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