Two actors, two chairs, one jacket. Physically, that's what is on stage right now at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham. Their current production of Daniel MacIvor's play In on It almost redefines minimalism, in a sense. It almost seems like those elements of the show (set, props, etc.) are stepping aside to let the work itself shine. And shine it most certainly does.
In on It is centered around two characters, ambiguously named This One and That One, as they switch between the here-and-now, moments from the history of their relationship, and scenes from a play written by This One. It explores many themes, ranging from life and death to the nature of romance to acting choices.
The show has meta elements which border on overwhelming, but somehow work – it's so much more than the "we're in a play and we know it" premise. Yes, the characters know they're in a play, but that knowledge is used in a way I've never before experienced. The writing is quippy yet clear, the direction adds clarity, and the acting is spot-on. Even when the characters discuss the very poster for the show, it doesn't seem fake or forced, and most importantly, it doesn't feel like a gimmick. Matthew Hager (This One) and Gregor McElvogue (That One) each brings his own spirit and brand of charm to the production, to the point that you almost forget that there are two, and not ten, actors on stage. Since each character plays several roles (in the play-within-the-play), there were a few times when I was uncertain who was who, but the acting was good enough that I didn't particularly mind. The changes between scenes were always clear.
For me, the crowning achievement of this production is the sound design by Quran Karriem. The sound design makes the lack of scenery irrelevant. The location and the tone are conveyed perfectly through sound. When one of the characters leaves and gets in his car, it really sounds like someone left the theater and is in a car just outside the door. Spaces both public and private, indoor and outdoor, are set spectacularly with sound. Punctuated by Leslie Gore and Maria Callas, the sound design makes the production soar.
In on It runs through June 9. For tickets and more information, visit www.ManbitesDogTheater.org.