By Daniel Skora
Clutter, when it’s of the physical kind, can often be easily taken care of with the simple swipe of a hand across a desk, which is exactly what happens at one point in “Clutter”, the current presentation of Theatre Nova. But there is another kind of clutter harder to manage than stacks of paper and boxes of stuff that we can’t bring ourselves to get rid of. Emotional clutter, those hurts, those half-truths and those misgivings that we refuse to let go of or make peace with are far more debilitating than anything taking up space in our closets and basements. And nowhere is that emotional clutter more destructive than when it occurs between two people who have made a commitment to each other through the bond of marriage.
“Clutter” is a World Premiere of playwright Brian Cox’s deeply moving portrait of a marriage gone sour because of the inability of each party to be totally honest with the other. The story is mainly told through the words of the husband, who is identified only as “Me” (Phil Powers). We see him seated at his desk, talking freely to the audience while he tries to eliminate the accumulation of paper that rests before him. When he begins talking about his marriage, he reaches out to the audience for assistance, calling up first “Woman” (Tory Matsos), than “Sir” (Artun Kircali) to help him with his story. “Woman” is his supposed wife; “Sir” the man he remembers as himself during the years of his marriage. “Me” than proceeds to recall events and situations that happened during the course of his marriage, his personal feelings playing a prominent part in the narrative. But rather quickly, “Woman” begins to take on a life of her own, independent of “Me’s” recollections. She corrects him on things he appears to have misremembered, like the circumstances of their initial meeting and the place of their first date. “Sir” joins in the criticism, telling “Me” how he should have behaved in certain situations and how his actions could have triggered many of the less-than-favorable outcomes.
The first half of this 90 minute one-act becomes somewhat repetitive as it deals with the “small stuff”, those slights, omissions, miscues and faux pas that seem to occur in even the most solid of relationships. But the stakes escalate, reach an emotional peak as a matter of fact, when the subject turns to sex. Not with salacious intentions, it should be noted, but with the realization that the sex act is a vital part of the human condition and marriage is an institution where not only is the union of two people legally recognized, but where the sexual needs of each of the parties can, in effect, find fulfillment.
The second half of “Clutter” becomes a gut-wrenching experience where a man and a woman desire to love of one another, yet find a roadblock when one refuses to engage in sexual intimacy with the other.
“Clutter” is emotionally provocative, an intricately woven piece of thinking person’s theatre. It’s a marriage ripped open at the seams, sadly too, because at the point where it lies, it’s become impossible to start over or to make amends. Marriage is always a bit of a quagmire: those who engage in it are always too close, yet never close enough. See Theatre Nova’s production for some fine performances by Powers, Matsos, and Kircali. See it because it may make you aware of some of the clutter in your own personal life. And see it especially because a playwright has undoubtedly left a great deal of his heart and soul on the pages of his script.
“Clutter” is directed by Diane Hill. The set, several shelving units filled with monochromatic ceramics that could be either clutter or, much like the marriage between “Sir” and “Woman”, unfinished pieces greatly in need of refinement, is by Ariel Sheets. Lighting design is by Daniel C. Walker, sound is by Diane Hill and Haley Cook, and costumes are by Carla Milarch.
“Clutter” runs through April 16th. Suggested ticket price is $20, available by calling 734.635-8450. Theatre Nova is located at 416 W. Huron Street in the Yellow Barn, a stone’s throw off the road in downtown Ann Arbor.