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"Wild Swimming," show #846

Marek Horn’s Wild Swimming is a play written at a level beneath whimsical, requiring strong directorial vision and stylistic execution by its cast; everything else simply supports the aforementioned requirements for this production to be delivered at its utmost realization. The messages of artistic doubt vs. success, competitiveness, and appreciation of self-progress are made quite apparent in Horn’s dialogue, with a few astutely written monologues for characters Oscar and Nell, allowing the audience to dwell along with them as they journey through their poetic and dramatic careers. Director Ethan Magill trims the time hops with jarringly energetic scene changes, complemented by Jorji Brookly’s boppy sound design. The transitions provide a break from plot-following, allowing the audience to simply enjoy watching the four-person cast interact with one another (and the audience) while prepping for the next scene. This production is earnest and one which requires its audiences to lean forward and engage.

Marcus Valdez and Jeret Carpenter portray the role of Oscar while Stephanie Axsom and Jazmin Valdez portray the role of Nell. Magill begins the play with M. Valdez and Axsom kicking off the quite raw emotional relationship they share, and both actors deliver passionate performances throughout their time in navigating the expectations of family and society while honoring their own artistic passions. Late in the play, M. Valdez delivers an excellent breakdown monologue which sets off the final scene. It’s an acting triumph among the otherwise frantic nature of the play (and frantic by design, not as a deterrent to the material). Magill’s clipped pacing of the staging and delivery allows the audience to feel, in real-time, what the characters are going through, which pays off in the final scene. The riveting nature of this production comes when the scenes slow down, such as when Carpenter is dressed in a noticeably stuffy suit (correctly off-brand from the earlier period costuming and beach wear; superb costume design by Brielle Yang) and is simply sitting on a bench, playing opposite a dynamite Axsom. When Magill switches up the Oscar-Nell players it allows for the vision of four people portraying two characters to land in the disjointed casting choice which gives focus to textual nuance rather than succinct portrayal.

Tamrah Sales’s scenic design fits the bill well with a beachy haven and costume racks completely in sight, and Amanda Al-Habre’s props are well used in their scattering all over the stage, giving great visualization of the scattered mind of Oscar opposite Nell’s focused attention and motivation for excelling in her poetry career. Magill’s staging of the final moment, Nell laying on the sand, is given a snip of timing, creating a less lingering moment of contemplation of the play’s end but rather an abrupt finish to a breakneck-speed script. The play is a success in that it is primarily character-driven from the jump, with gems upon gems of artistic and humanity commentary riddled throughout. Magill and company find every moment worth highlighting and do so in a streamlined, pleasantly quirky manner.

Wild Swimming has performances tonight, Saturday, 11/12 at 7:30pm and Sunday, 11/13 at 2pm at Fresno State’s Lab Theater. Go see this show!

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