John Kolvenbach Offers Antidote to Cynical Times
by Jeremiah Wall
On the way to see Magic Theatre’s World Premiere of John Kolvenbach’s “Reel to Reel,” I stopped to listen to sound artist Bill Fontana’s revival of a 1981 installation at Fort Mason’s Pier 2. The sound of foghorns glided through the early evening air, and Alcatraz loomed, dimly lit in the Bay. “Reel to Reel” is about a different form of captivity, a marriage made in sound, capturing intangible frequencies by freezing time, turning everyday moments into magnetic particles.
In a sparsely furnished New York loft, 82 year old Maggie Spoon (graceful Carla Spindt) sits at a small table, splicing tapes for a sound collage. Her husband Walter (velvet-voiced Will Marchetti), in his golden high back chair, attempts to distract Maggie from her endless labor. Maggie is a low-tech throwback who, Walter jokes, has passed up 16 generations of editing tools. We are in for some nostalgia, and the Spoons’ marriage seems as quaint and outdated as Maggie’s editing techniques.
“Reel to Reel” features two Walters and two Maggies, with younger and older couples. Playwright and Director Kolvenbach skillfully mixes sequences , moving back and forth in time. Maggie changes the most because Walter, already a bit of a curmudgeon at age 27, was overwhelmed by Maggie’s high energy.
Maggie 1 (exuberant Zoe Winters) knows she wants Walter. Winters’ Maggie comes on like gangbusters, and Walter 1 (reticent Andrew Pastides), is taken aback by Maggie’s forcefulness. Rather than playing the hen-pecked husband, Pastides retains a quiet dignity. Winters plays Maggie like a wave hitting the beach, catching Walter in the undertow.
At 82 years of age, Walter 2 is still competing with the sound-editing table for Maggie’s attentions. Maggie 2 pretends to be annoyed by Walter’s demands , but she is still wrapped up in him, and he claims that she has become his only interest.
Although we could call them co-dependent, that would cynically deride their strong, enduring love. Marchetti and Spindt play a mellower version of Walter and Maggie, conveying a quiet passion that will please older couples, and give younger ones hope. Kolvenbach is not afraid to appear uncool with his unbridled optimism, and “Aw, shucks” ode to love.
All the recordings are performed live, using Sarah Huddleston’s Foley effects. It’s reminiscent of old time radio, and a comment on our dependence on tech. “Reel to Reel” poses questions about our need to document everything in the Age of Instagram.
Today, many use earphones to block out the environment around them, contributing to the rise of noise pollution. Such auditory passivity contributes to our enslavement. As an active listener, Maggie Spoon serves as an antidote to passivity. Her active receptivity accounts for the successful Spoon union.
Maggie’s character suggests that we need to be more actively participating in collecting and archiving our memories, remembering to remain in the moment. Kolvenbach’s sound play reveals that everyday things count. We need all our senses activated to focus on the moment, and give our lives full attention.
I found myself invested in the outcome of the life of the Spoons, and after leaving the theater, was more attuned to everyday sounds. “Reel to Reel” gets us thinking about love and our senses, and is really a play of the moment, providing reasons for hope in today’s landscape polluted with cynicism and noise.
“Reel To Reel” written and directed by John Kolvenbach, at Magic Theatre, San Francisco, through Sunday, February 25, 2018. Info: magictheatre.org
Cast: Zoe Winters, Andrew Pastides, Carla Spindt, and Will Marchetti.