By Hannah Buoye
When a play is performed in the Experimental Theater on campus, one might expect two hours of bizarre lighting and strange modern dance interpretations. The student-directed and produced play “[sic],” however, deviates from “experimental” conventions. While what’s “weird” is normal in Santa Cruz, cast member Clare Loughran muses that Melissa James Gibson’s play is, “experimental because of the script itself, not the way it’s performed.”
[sic], as the production’s program explains, is a “parenthetical insertion” used to draw attention to an anomaly or error in a quotation. Denoting that the phrase is written exactly as it was uttered, the word is also “a way of putting the responsibility of a mistake on someone else.”
A conglomeration of repeated phrases, composed symphony-like with rounds, unison and repetition, “[sic]” is a story of three struggling artists who are betrayed by love and find themselves in a triangle of friendship and sexual tension. While the story might seem generic, the play’s ironic treatment of language lends it a unique spin: what we hear, see, and believe is often “anomalous and erroneous.”
According to director Kai Aikawa, the play focuses on the “obscuring of vision,” especially through the manipulation of speech. “[sic] doesn’t look true, but it actually is,” he said. When characters repeat phrases, speak in rounds or in unison, they lend a quality of dÃ©jÃ  vu and an element of musicality to the play. In addition to the obscuring effects of the dialogue, the set is designed to physically obstruct the audience’s vision.
“No matter where you sit,” Aikawa said, “you can’t see everything.”
On stage, three doors lead into three apartment rooms, each encapsulating their owner’s personalities. Above, abstractly depicting an air-shaft are scrim panels lit to denote the time of day and project the shadows of an additional narrative of a couple in the process of divorce.
Metaphorical walls and spaces are created by the set, denoting the successive worlds the characters move through. There are the actual apartment rooms behind tangible walls, the common space of the apartment hall where characters put up metaphorical walls around each other, and the outside world of the shadowy couple that intrudes faintly upon the main narrative.
While the performance the audience sees appears coherent, the script in print is a different story. Aikawa said she stumbled upon the script during a directing class one summer and became enamored with the play’s accessible plot and unconventional form. Director and cast members alike explained how Gibson’s script is written in fragmented parts with no punctuation and random capitalizations.
“There were lots of line breaks in odd places,” Nika Pappas, a third-year Theater Arts major who plays Babette, explained. “Like she decided to press return on the keyboard in the middle of a sentence.”
Subtly experimental, the play also represents the liminal space between college and the “real world”. The non-linear plot, Pappas said, is more like real life and “very indicative of college and not knowing exactly what you’re going to do afterwards.”
The script, with its disregard of punctuation and manipulation of capitalization, allows for creative interpretation.
“When I first looked at it, it barely made sense to me” Ashkan Jahromi, who plays Frank, said. “But then I realized that as I was speaking it, it became more natural â€¦ [the script] allows you to paint your own picture.”
The play, Jahromi explained, shows “life as a conversation” with its focus on relationships rather than events. Mirroring the disjointed lines of the printed script, the play itself is a collection of “pieces” that the audience itself must put together.
[sic] will be performed at the UCSC experimental theater through Sunday, November 11.