Photos by Matthew Dunivan
A group of nondescript individuals arrive in an abandoned ski equipment store. They begin to explore the space, declaring "We live here now." An elaborate game of imagination evolves, each person playing a series of characters that live and work around the shop. An indeterminate amount of time passes. The interactions have an improv feel to them, each person deliberately and conspiritorially saying "Yes, and…" to the ideas of their fellows. The reality of the situation seems a long distance away; time and place blurring into a non-distinct entity. The false worlds they seem to be creating become increasingly, perilously important. A real estate agent enters the room, apparently trying to sell the building. It is not clear whether she is real, or a further evolution of imagination. Indeed, it is not clear if anything at all is real in this play.
Piehole (for that is the company's name) have constructed a deliberately cryptic work here. Comparisons to Ionesco and theatre of the absurd are inevitable. Their characters interact with one another and their surroundings in a way reminiscent of the characters in The Chairs. To someone who hasn't seen the show, this may make it sound like it errs on the side of pretentiousness. Surprisingly, this is a flaw Ski End does not possess. It's far too charming to be pretentious. With all its seemingly high-concept trappings, you could be forgiven for concerns regarding its intent. However, it's clear from very early on that this is a play with a good sense of humor about itself. The characters toss around awkward quips, and talk ironically about "shredding pow" in too-cool-for-school ski-slang. Its sense of fun, and lack of self-importance allow an audience into their borderline-esoteric world, freeing it of those unwanted trappings.
Photos by Matthew Dunivan
Tara Ahmadinejad's cast are a lot of fun here, particularly the core five players. The improvised feel of this show is vital to its ecosystem, and could have dissolved easily in a rehearsal process. Nevertheless, they are able to keep it alive, and even make these bizarre people surprisingly endearing. That is perhaps the watch phrase for this entire play: surprisingly endearing. Describing Ski End for the potential audience member is a difficult task because so much of what it is comes from its mood and the complete lack of context that it presents. However, for some reason, as you watch it, the play's by turns consistent then inconsistent internal logic forms itself into a kind of harmony. To say it makes sense, or that you understand it is a stretch, but to say you leave with a working theory of this world is reasonable.
Ski End is a play recommended for the theatre-goer who's looking for the genre marked "Other". It's funny, but it's not a conventional comedy. It's moody, but it's too verbal to be a mood piece. It's occasionally creepy, but it's not a horror show. It has some beautiful visuals (courtesy of Oona Curley, Matt Romein, and associated crew), but it's not a visual installation. It has drama, but it is not a drama. It is a decidedly peculiar piece of devised theatre that defies easy categorization, and yet asks nothing strenuous of its audience beyond an open-mind and a mild tolerance for bemusement. Worth a look if you're craving a unique experience.