Freedom of choice
Which life would you choose? A woman struggling with breast cancer or a mother terrified of the consequences a revealed secret will wreak? A reporter tasked with interviewing a death row inmate or an immigrant struggling to adapt to American life? What about a protective father holding tightly to the strained relationship with his daughter?
It’s the question playwright and director Bob Gabrielli wants you to consider when his production, Excerpts, comes to life Jan. 9 at the Reno Little Theater. Excerpts centers around FLX, an individual yet to be born who must choose to inhabit one of five lives.
“You ever heard the saying that a person’s never given more than they can handle in life?” asks Gabrielli. “Well, I’ve come up with a reason that is: pre-incarnation. Not reincarnation, but pre-incarnation. That a human prototype can look at five excerpts, five lives and then decide which one they want to be born into.”
In Gabrielli’s play, FLX is offered the chance to view and interact with these lives in order to determine which he feels he can best embody. Guided through the process by a life coach, Gabriel, FLX slowly awakens to the notion that each life holds both difficulty and potential and that there’s more to his circumstance than is immediately obvious.
The play’s short run is part of Reno Little Theater’s Off-Off Wells series, an attempt to bring atypical theater fare to patrons. However, the intense preparation period required Gabrielli to bring strong performers into the fold.
“For the time frame, Christmas and holidays, I had to go out and cajole and beg and plead for the best actors,” he says.
Excerpts showcases both the performer’s ability to relate to the audience and their ability to transition into multiple roles. The character switches are a tactic Gabrielli borrowed from a past Reno Little Theater production of A. R. Gurney’s The Dining Room. Actors were required to play at least two characters each, an experience Gabrielli recounts fondly. In Excerpts, eight actors will play 22 roles.
During rehearsal, actress Libby Bakke vaults between the character of a young woman smitten with an American soldier occupying her war-torn homeland and that of a strong-willed daughter working to loosen her father’s expectations. The pain she conjures to her face during a tense interaction with her on-stage father brings forward personal memories of similar conversations and a knot to my throat.
Jeff Chamberlin, the actor who portrays FLX, notes it’s been satisfying to be a part of the Excerpts story. “I think most people, at least at some point in their lives, have asked themselves some of the spiritual questions that FLX is asking,” he says. “My hope is that we are able to give some external shape to these often internal questions.”
Chamberlin adds he felt the power of “the main character evaluating his courage and skills and making choices based on what he finds there. There are some very real dangers to his situation and that makes for a great story.”
Gabrielli says he subscribes to the belief that people should give more than they take, and he hopes that Excerpts will prompt viewers to eventually inspect their own motives.
By the conclusion, it’s apparent the play embodies Gabrielli’s concept—giving the audience more than its premise suggests. And though the pace seems deceivingly slow early on, patrons will likely appreciate the bigger picture that surfaces as FLX gains more clarity.