Atop an imaginary Tennessee hill, poet Wallace Stevens famously placed an
imaginary jar, which “took dominion everywhere” and tamed a wilderness that
“rose up to it.” In Stevens’s philosophy, the most commonplace object holds
adequate wonder to create a new, poeticized world order.
Chicago monologist and playwright Barrie Cole has long been placing
imaginary jars atop imaginary hills. Her ambiguously concrete work layers
childlike simplicity over seasoned melancholy to produce piercing, wondrous
images of charming, discomfiting transformation. You might mistake Cole’s
work for the fables of a hyperliterate six-year-old who’s just discovered
the reality of death.
Cole’s new play Reality Is an Activity, which borrows strategically from Stevens and William Carlos Williams, condenses the mundane and the magical into a 95-minute
gem. Two middle-aged women, Helen and Miranda, have convinced “the
Foundation” to bankroll their efforts to create an improved world order by
turning everything into poetry. When hapless Foundation representative Mr.
Howard shows up at their compound and finds them doing little but rolling
down hills, reading aloud simultaneously from the same page in different
books, and removing their dining table leaf to create “a portal, a bowl of
renewal, a loophole,” he’s torn between cutting off their funds and seeking
to discover their perplexing brand of daily astonishment.
Veteran Theater Oobleck performers Vicki Walden, Colm O’Reilly, and Diana
Slickman unlock the poignancy and profundity in the script’s thoughtful
foolishness. It’s a rich, tantalizing evening that provides a restorative
antidote to rationality. v