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Meg MacCary (foreground) with
Kate Hampton and Dan Snook
in The Typographer’s Dream
(Photo: Mahlon Stewart)
Three characters are seated on a light-blue set, before three separate tables. The abstract rendering of the bookcases behind them, filled with uniformly light-blue books, indicates the tenor of what we are about to see. In a series of stylized, short monologues broken by one another, and increasingly by scenes in which the characters interact, Adam Bock takes us in his new play The Typographer's Dream into rich thematic territory. His formal innovations, which amuse us and draw us into the lives of three people -- a stenographer, a geographer, and a typographer -- are complemented by costumes which match the bland, constrained, intense personalities and interactions the characters share with us and each other.

As Margaret the Typographer, Meg MacCary has the fewest lines of the show, but makes a great impact. With the demeanor of an inhibited dreamer, a closet passionata wrapped in an uptight eccentric, MacCary conveys to us the total magic of her chosen field, its "rigor" and "clarity." In commercial typography, she realizes her power -- she can represent a product to "look exciting, look serious, look fun, look valuable, seem healthy. So I did. Because that was my goddamn job."

The latter is a quintessentially American phrase conveying the roiling emotional tension not entirely beneath her surface, or that of the play. We learn quickly that Margaret, like Annalise the Geographer and David the Stenographer, is both defined by her job and defines herself against it. Thus we learn about them primarily through their jobs for the first half of the show, through projected slides of steno machines from which David explains his profession -- not court reporter, stenographer -- and slides of maps through which Annalise shares her obsession with them.

A Canadian played by Kate Hampton with a deliberately American accent which throws her rare maple-leaf-land "eh" into comical relief, Annalise is the most bold of the three in many respects; she is order-obsessed like the others, but more self-confident. We hear of the nearly comprehensive field of geography in grandiose terms, and of the powerful lines which divide countries, between wondrous hues that can color whole nations, like the former Soviet Union, pink on a given cartograph. Soon, however, Annalise confronts David (Dan Snook), whose job is to be a neutral witness without opinion or personality, a human recorder of the crises and cataclysms of others, about his unconscious self-effacement.

As David recoils, defending his relationship with Bob, who is apparently a drunk, Annalise stalks him like a predator, making observations that are both cold and highly personal about David's subconsciously self-diminishing speech patterns. As the tension between them ratchets up, we begin to learn more about the friendships which engage them all. Director Drew Barr does a terrific job handling both the isolation of these characters and their struggle to connect, and the aesthetic of the show is highly unified and professional.

The producing company of this show, running at HERE in SoHo, is the Obie-winning Clubbed Thumb troupe, which certainly achieves its mission to present "funny, strange, and provocative new plays" by a talented young playwright. The dramatist, a Bay-Area award winner whose style in this piece recalls the arch, funny world presented last year in the popular [sic] by Melissa James Gibson, is definitely someone to be encouraged. The difficulty of locating and mastering new forms of stage presentation, and doing so in the service of a story which makes us laugh, makes us curious and engaged, is admirably assumed by this ambitious young group in the service of this quirky new piece. As they continue their collaboration (hopefully) with Bock, we hope to see work with perhaps more emotional resonance than was in evidence here, but with the promising thematic richness and formal agility that make this show quite stimulating.

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