Photo courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA

“I love your bracelet actually.” 

This first sentence in “The Approach” was spoken June 2 from the stage at Dock Street Theatre where two women sit at a table with wooden chairs hanging above them, suspended in various positions. They sit under the spotlight, chit-chatting. Anna (Aisling O’Sullivan) and Cora (Cathy Walker) sat still, hands over their knees, back leaned into chairs, seemingly terrified of turning their heads toward one another.

“The Approach” is a play written and directed by Mark O’Rowe, also the screenwriter of “Normal People,” one of the hottest TV series in 2020. The play explores anger, grief, laughter and confession within a series of conversations. The three characters — all females in their early 40s — are triggered by different memories which lead to answers about some misunderstandings in their 20s. 

The story comes together through their words, as the one-hour playis a series of four seated conversations. Anna and Denise (Derbhle Crotty) are two sisters at odds over a man they both loved. Their friend Cora tries to ease the intension between them. Romantic crosswords happen everywhere, clues to old memories. Laughter came in waves from the audience each time the same “romantic crosswords” came up in conversation.

O’Sullivan, Belton and Crotty have nuanced acting skills, presenting background information even from their body language. For instance, Anna and Cora sit away from the table during a conversation. When Cora and Denise meet, they lean their upper bodies into the table, Cora clenches her fists when saying goodbye to Anna, shaking when the topic shifts to abuse. During all the conversations, the energy between them filled the performance space.

In “Normal People,” O’Rowe explored the natural ways that a TV series can stay in audiences’ hearts and feel relatable without being overly dramatic or symbolistic. The simple beauty of dialogue happens in people’s daily lives; it contains the natural humanity and instinctive emotions. ”The Approach” does the same, but for live theater.

And the end of the play takes the characters back to a familiar conversation, leaving the audience to draw conclusions.

As O’Rowe said in an interview with the Charleston City Paper, “It is, you know, like a snake swallowing its own tail. And it connects to the beginning of the play again … So, we see the beginning of the play twice. But knowing the context of everything that’s happened in between the beginning of the play kind of changes the meaning.”

There is a relationship beneath each of the four conversations that reveals stories and feelings. Humans are complicated, no matter what role – as friends, families, or strangers in the same space, we communicate with each other with or without words.  

O’Rowe leaves what could be interpreted as confusion about the end, but it is artistic design – a conversation in itself. 

Tina Zhu is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.

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