Although the two men have been colleagues on the faculty of Westmont College for more than 20 years, Platinum Circle is the first collaboration between director John Blondell and playwright Randall VanderMey. This cycle of three short plays is VanderMey’s first-ever staged work. While the performance pace is rapid, the creation was slow. Cell Division, the first act, was written 10 years ago. Fleas, the second, followed. But then the project stalled for some years, until VanderMey was on sabbatical in Edinburgh and experienced an epiphany that released the vision for the third act, Bluetooth Paternoster.
Platinum Circle is theater of the absurd that explores the ironies of communion and communication in the age of the cell phone. The performance shifts locales between acts as the audience is ushered from the Porter Theatre to the black box and back again to Porter. The first and third acts are similar in their portrayal of individuals chatting away on Bluetooth ear pieces, all the while nearly oblivious to their surroundings.
In Cell Division, an ambitious real estate agent is shopping for clothes while juggling multiple calls to friends, colleagues, and her children. The term “Platinum Circle” is an exclusive club for top-performing real estate agents, but as a title for the entire work, it suggests the exclusivity of the one-on-one phone call and a compromised engagement with one’s surroundings.
Fleas steps into a fanciful Stone Age where men and women struggle to communicate in their proto-Indo-European language. When an Appalachian preacher appears on the scene, the primitive people are wowed by his verbal facility but oblivious to the inane tautologies he spews. A phone booth with an interminable ring adds to the surrealism and suggestion.
Bluetooth Paternoster inverts the theater by putting the audience on stage and the performers in the audience (a wonderfully disorienting experience). Student actors displayed impressive mastery of the complex non sequiturs that wove together seven separate phone conversations. Platinum Circle is hugely entertaining and original. At the same time it provokes serious questions about media and proximity, it reveals what is gained or lost when we no longer speak face-to-face.