Review by David Walters
59E59 Theater‘s Artistic Director, Val Day, was instrumental in bringing Square Go from the Edinburgh Theater Festival for a short run at their Theater C. It’s a middle school/junior high romp (played by two all cylinders burning, wonderfully capable adult actors in wrestling attire) that explores masculinity and what it means to grow up in the schoolyard rumble tumble of puberty when you’re low man on the totem pole.
In a school, somewhere in Scotland, in a desperate attempt to right an embarrassing gaffe of public vulnerability, 13-year-old Max (Daniel Portman) has inadvertently insulted the big and hairy bully of the school, Danny (Gavin Jon Wright in a luca libre wrestling mask), and has been called out to fight him toe to toe (i.e. a Square Go) as soon as the end of day school bell rings.
Waiting for that ominous bell, as any non-self-respecting school kid would, he’s cowering in the toilet with his best mate Stevie (“Best place to hide if you plan on shitting yourself.”), played by Gavin Jon Wright, who is his second (or “hauners” in Scottish speak) trying to figure out how to best avoid an inevitable pummeling all the while questioning the attributes of what it means to be a “man” and wouldn’t it make more sense to just go home and not show up?
As they agonizingly examine their options, their history, Danny’s, and their families personal journey is revealed as the inevitable road that has led all the players to this day and this time (“Every dick’s got a reason for being a dick, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re a dick.”).
The school bell rings and Max and Stevie make their way to their appointed place of destiny and discover more about life than they thought they would.
The play is done in the round with the audience brought into the action as cheerleaders and confidants offering both an ear and moral support. It’s a fast-paced sprint from the opening line to the finish with the only time to reflect being after you’ve left the theatre.
Square Go is a great portrayal of what boys everywhere go through in trying to understand what it means to be a man, giving insight to the mixed messages and unwritten law of peers that every boy has to interpret for themselves. It doesn’t go beyond that though and cross over the threshold of the playground into the outer world. A minor insignificant quibble for a fringe show, but not for a run at an established theater.
Fringe shows, no matter from what great festival (Edinburgh, Prague, Orlando, Toronto, Amsterdam, New York, etc.), are given a bit of slack, a little leeway, a chance to be not quite on the money; and it’s okay. Perfectly okay. That’s part of the fun, thrill, and joy of attending a festival. The audience brings a special kind of anticipation into the theatre, or whatever space is being used, looking for that joy of theater that only a live performance can provide. If you’ve never spent several days seeing 15-20 shows, put it on your bucket list. Binging theatre. That sense of we’re all in this together, both audience and actors, is not there in an “outside of the fringe circuit” theater experience. It’s more of a, “show me what ya got.” It’s not easy for fringe shows to make that adjustment.
Square Go by Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair; directed by Finn Den Hertog.
With: Daniel Portman and Gavin Jon Wright.
Lighting by Peter Small, Original soundtrack by members of Frightened Rabbit, Movement by Vicki Manderson.
June 6-30 at 59E59. Tickets can be purchased here.
65 minutes with no intermission.