How do you expect a play to begin?
With an almost deserted stage which remains still and silent for an uncomfortably long period? A stage which, even when filled with movement, will be devoid of voice for a large portion of the play?
Probably not. But if you come into Patti & The Kid at On the Boards expecting to witness a typical piece of theatre, you are in for a surprise.
It is difficult to summarize just what happens after a man and a woman armed with nerf guns emerge with scarves covering their mouths like bandits from the old west, because what follows is not a simple plot. What follows? The audience discovers that the two main characters, Kid (Frank Boyd) and Patti (Libby King), believe themselves to be survivors of some kind of apocalypse—“We destroyed the world for them,” Patti comments, referring to the world’s children. The pair perform a sequence of actions ranging from the everyday (making coffee, vacuuming), to the slightly odd (working out enthusiastically to a jazzercise tape), to the completely unexpected (setting out and lying on a number of computer keyboards). These silent activities are interrupted by the appearance of a young girl,Tammy, who is much more comfortable in this post-apocalyptic environment. Tammy—played by 10-year-old Maya Flory-Barnes Salas, who demonstrates maturity, and confidence far beyond her years—is the first character to speak. Several themes take shape from what follows.
One is a prevalence of ironic, unexpected juxtapositions of unlike things or ideas. There are multiple mentions of poetry, though this post-apocalyptic world feels anything but poetic, and everyday objects used for typical purposes are juxtaposed with carpet squares for sleeping bags and dollies and mops for rafts and oars.
Another theme is how the play challenges audiences to question their expectations on multiple levels. By the end of a monologue from Kid, in which he introduces himself as an alcoholic and addict now sober thanks to the Apocalypse, he seems more like a good friend than the broken outcast the audience might initially be tempted to label him. In contrast, from Patti’s stream-of-consciousness monologue, she seems (pre-apocalypse) to have been the more successful, normal individual. Yet her speech is that of a deeply broken woman. In this way, the play challenges the instinct to label or condemn both the piece itself, and its characters. These people who barely speak, live on carpet squares, and have experienced extremes are ultimately still humans, not so unlike ourselves.
The program-like ‘postscript’ handed to audience members after the performance reveals another way this play breaks the mold of typical drama. As in other devised theatre, the skilled performers worked together through writing, improvisation, and discussion to create the piece, instead of using a script completed long ago by a playwright they will likely never meet.
Like other absurdist plays, Patti & The Kid depicts reality as far from concrete. Patti asks Tammy if the crickets she hears are real, just as audiences may wonder what is real in the play. Tammy and the adults seem to be living in different realities: Patti and Kid live in one of constant possible threats, with limited food and resources, where the ground beyond their carpet squares cannot be stepped on; Tammy lives in one with a home, good food, a mother, comfort and fearlessness.
A viewer may experience some “what is happening?” moments while watching Patti & The Kid, but even for first time viewers of devised, absurdist theatre, the play offers an extremely interesting evening. It forces audiences to be involved: to think critically, to question, and to consider how to respond. Perhaps this investment is why the play is so powerfully transporting—it carries the viewer into a headspace of complex, abstract ideas far from their pragmatic everyday world.
How do you define Patti & The Kid? As a post-apocalyptic, semi-old-western piece of absurdist devised theatre? One could, but it challenges summary description as much as it challenges theatrical expectations. What is it about? Technology, the future, humanity, expectations, relationships, connection and disconnection? Yes, but that’s definitely not all. This interesting, weird, surprisingly touching piece of theatre has the power to transport, challenge, inspire, and move in unexpected ways.
The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE. This review was written as part of the Adventures in Contemporary American Culture workshop which was produced in partnership with On the Boards. It was edited by performance critic Omar Willey, and TeenTix Press Corps Manager Mariko Nagashima.