by A-Team Member Ross Scarano
With the shouted word “Cocktails!” reverberating in the open space of Salvage Vanguard Theater, I was handed an Old Fashioned in a plastic cup, muddled before my eyes with a homemade maraschino cherry and a bright slice of orange. That I would soon be seeing a staged reading of Ruth Margraff’s Over the Garden Wall was not yet apparent in the casual atmosphere fostered by drinks and talk of parlor games. Sure, some of the well-dressed people moving among the audience members were actors (you could tell because they shouted “cocktails!” with a theatrical flourish I could never have mustered), but the theater felt more like a friendly gathering than the moments before a ticketed event.
Greased by alcohol, we the audience happily participated in a parlor game called Chain Link Murder, a gruesome take on charades. From there we played Werewolf, a game again centered around murder. Despite the rising body count, the mood remained light, easy with laughter and booze. By the time Over the Garden Wall began, we had been lulled into the right frame of mind to enjoy the madcap experience of watching a staged reading of a play that, to my eye, could be performed no other way.
Margraff’s play is less concerned with its plot than with its own stage directions. The absurdity of many of the directions, read aloud to the four actors and actresses by another individual who weaves through the audience shouting things like “random quarter jumps,” prompting whoever is reading at that moment to engage in said behavior. For the play to work (and it does, marvelously) we the audience must be convinced that it’s being read aloud for the first time. This is a staged reading, with the word “staged” functioning in more ways than one. We the audience allow ourselves to be duped into thinking this is a read through and that the actors are encountering these ridiculous stage directions for the first time because its more fun that way. Obviously this is a show that requires much rehearsal, but we are asked to believe otherwise, making the show all the more enjoyable.
If all this was difficult to follow, do yourself a favor and just see the show. After all, the Old Fashioned is complimentary and the laughter hard to avoid.