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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

'Getting to Know' Romance in the Zoo

Author: Laura Rockefeller Staff Writer

Four couples stood in the spotlight this weekend in the Hepburn Zoo at the opening of "Getting To Know You," the sixth annual First- Year Production. Through movement, the words of the ensemble, the works of Mary Gallagher, Andy Mitton '01, Harold Pinter and others, Director Sam Elmore '00.5 created a collage piece about the many faces of relationships. As he wrote in the director's notes, the piece explores the stages of a relationship, from flirtation through to the break-up, while asking the question, "Who are we when we do these things?" What lengths will we go to in order to appear attractive to that particular member of the opposite sex?

The whole gamut of intrigues and machinations that humans go through to draw each other into a relationship was put into perspective by an explanation early on in the production of the mating habits of other types of animals, from ostrich to alligator. Individual actors demonstrated the various cries and dances that animals perform to attract a mate. Then, the ensemble came to a realization: "And I have trouble just saying 'hi'."

The set was very simple — eight stools sat facing each other — but complicated antics soon began as the people occupying the stools, in true-to-life fashion, began over-analyzing their relationships from every perspective possible. One of the most memorable pieces in the first half of the show was a monologue by Liam Aiello '05 where he talked through all of the agonizing deliberations leading up to speaking to the object of his affections. His simplicity and sincerity completely drew the audience in to his all too familiar dilemma while the girl causing all the problems was alternately hidden by the crowd of her friends and displayed to him from across the room, at what seemed like an immeasurable distance.

The following series of individual scenes was interspersed with brief ensemble pieces that used movement and choral speaking to display many of the points one hits on the emotional roller coaster. One montage displayed, through a clearly structured dance, the tight connection between two people in a relationship, but then dissolved into chaotic movements as actors explained how lost they were before they fell in love. The segments like this, where all the actors worked through realizations as an ensemble, were interesting in that they reinforced how universal all of these struggles are. Each actor came to the realization in a different way and from a different experience, but they were all moving together.

The second half of the piece moved on from the joy of coming together to the pain of breaking apart. Scenes dealt with many forms of separation, from simply deciding that the time had come, to murder. One scene dealing with issues of trust was played with particular sympathy by John Stokvis '05 and Shelia Seles '05. Their ability to find humor in the scene, even while trying to deal with the fact that each believed the other to have slept with another person, made it very real.

All the different segments of the show came together to emphasize one thing. Through the course of a relationship people are constantly changing and adapting, intentionally or unintentionally. Each actor had a very individual and unique journey over the course of the play, but they all had to make similar choices to make their relationships work. The show began with the actors demonstrating that they all begin relationships by flirting, but each with their own style. By demonstrating their various flirting tactics to members of the audience, the ensemble drew the audience members into a special relationship with the actors they were watching.

Throughout the piece, the audience continued to be involved in an unusual relationship with the scenes before them. The direct interactions that the actors had with the audience combined with the universality of the issues dealt to pull the audience into a close connection to the actors before them. Because of the alley seating, members of the audience also had an unusual relationship with each other. Behind each scene, members of the audience on one side of the theatre could see their counterparts on the other. In some instances it was the case that reactions to a piece came almost as much from the reactions of opposite audience members as from the piece itself.

This connection between members of the audience emphasized one of the issues presented in the piece: that in relationships people tend to wait for cues from their partner before they take any decisive action. One does not simply react to a situation. People often wait for the reaction of their significant other before hazarding any comment themselves. Audience members may have found themselves doing this as they mimicked the laughter or silence of the other audience members. People were not only members of the audience, but were somewhat on display themselves as they were watched just as they watched other people.

Although some inexperience was evident in a few performances, the honesty and commitment with which the company presented this piece was delightful. It was clear that each actor brought his or her own individual understanding to bear on their presentation of how we get to know each other. The scenes explored as many personalities and variations of relationships as were probably possible in one hour, and in many different ways. Through poetry, prose, movement and, in some cases, music, the production allowed the audience a look at all of the crazy things we will do in pursuit of love.