It’s a brilliant study in opposites.
And their fusing.
Using a symphony of sound effects that range from the power of a strident Coltrane-ish sax to the power of a delicate lover’s sigh.
I laughed a lot. And wept a little.
Which provided me with emotional releases not often found in theater.
“Reel to Reel” seamlessly blends comedy and poignancy as it scrutinizes intimacy via a relationship of 55 years and three months (despite the fact that the male partner claims “no one thought we’d last the weekend”).
The two-woman, two-man, all-Equity ensemble cast is flawless: Zoë Winters and Carla Spindt respectively as the young and old Maggie, and Andrew Pastides and Will Marchetti respectively as the youthful and elderly Walter — with each mouthing minor roles as well.
The world premiere at the Magic Theatre at Fort Mason, a short ride over the Golden Gate for Marinites like me, focuses on brash Maggie Spoon and tentative Walter Harp at ages 27, 42 and 82 — through the year 2050 — with all their tender sweet-nothings and earsplitting clashes.
With their streaks of boldness and insecurity, their flashes of creativity and ennui. With their pent up irritations (such as “the ticks and the clicks” of her knitting and “the sound of him digesting”).
And, through flashbacks, with their incredibly dramatic and incredibly mundane memories.
Not to mention marvelously pithy phrases such as “Do with me what you will,” “I find you kind of scary,” “You have a heart made of poison” and “My wife’s calves lower my IQ.”
Or oddly amusing one-liners like, “It could be a bunion that you find charming” or “Sometimes I check my shorts before I put ‘em on — make sure there’s not a microphone in there.”
The setting is Walter’s seedy New York apartment. Replete with three large, grungy windows; a chair upholstered in cheap orange fabric; a lamp with a naked bulb; and Maggie’s ever-present, antiquated reel-to-reel recording and splicing equipment.
“Reel to Reel” has moments that reminded me of wondrously intense jazz riffs by Lambert, Hendrix & Ross as well as the humorous feminist scribbles of Caitlin Moran.
John Kolvenbach, the 42-year-old playwright whose “Goldfish” and “Mrs. Whitney” also were produced by the Magic, delivers via his words and direction a punchiness reminiscent of Hemingway.
Kolvenbach, also the creator of “Love Song,” isn’t concerned with plot, however — only the stripping away of any artifice.
His major theatrical device is the character of Maggie.
She initially describes herself to Walter as unmarried, straight, a swimmer and knitter, someone who’s both broke and a feminist.
Maggie, it’s revealed, tapes everything (“I have 46 tapes from my parents’ bedroom — 4,1,40 minutes of marriage, a lot of it snoring,” she says nonchalantly, later noting that she re-recorded a noodle cracking 600 times).
Naturally, she turns the recordings into performance art.
Walter, on the other hand, has one burned film to his credit and doubts if he really had any medium at all.
The audio montage features sounds that might have descended from Ken Nordine’s word jazz or Spike Jones LPs.
But there are so many sound (and verbal) cues in the show that the four actors now and then had to refer to the edited script that rests on music stands in front of them.
I didn’t understand every sentence or noise on or off stage, but that reflects real life, too, doesn’t it?
Overall, however, I found “Reel to Reel,” in spite of its sometimes poetic or oblique dialogue and occasional character traits that in no way resemble mine or my wife’s, to be an exquisite mirror of my 30-year marriage, an aural and verbal tribute to a functional coupling.
Because it’s a play I’d strongly recommend to anyone who loves theater, female or male, immature or mellowed, I was irked by the Magic being half empty the recent night I attended. The show absolutely merits having a derrière in every seat.
“Reel to Reel” plays at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, San Francisco, through Feb. 25. Night performances, 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; matinees, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Information: 415-441-8822 or http://magictheatre.org