“The Other Side,” written by and starring Pepper Dee ’15 and directed by Ron Bashford, played this weekend in Holden Theater. All three nights were sold out, with dozens of students turned away. Dee’s play is the first of four senior theater and dance theses this semester, and Dee has set the bar high for the three performances to follow.
The set of “The Other Side” is an amalgamation of the two worlds that the play encompasses: that of the real world (the unnamed protagonist’s bedroom), and the fantastical mountain that he must climb in order to get over the also-unnamed tragedy that has rendered him bedridden for a full 24 hours. A 12-foot tiered platform rises in the background and mountain images are projected on three panes of plexiglass. Combined with focused lighting, it really does feel as if our hero is climbing. Dee promised that “The Other Side” would be a total sensory experience, and he delivers. The play, with its impressive set, expressive acting and entirely original soundtrack played by a live band, stimulates the audience’s senses in unexpected ways.
The play unfolds with a restless Dee – known only to us as The Guy — on his bed, tossing and turning. His friend (Jamie Sandel) attempts to get him out of bed, but he yells at him to leave. In Sandel’s measured knocks and careful tone, we understand that a tragedy has occurred and that Dee’s character is having trouble coping with the loss. After he has crossed the 24-hour threshold of solitude, he is suddenly awakened by Peanut (Lauren Carter), a Texas Ranger and physical manifestation of a character from his childhood bedtime stories. Peanut is joined by Slim (David Green), his older, wiser counterpart. They are characters, real and unreal, and their purpose is to help our hero surmount the tragedy. The situation is ridiculous and endearing, unbelievable enough to be completely believable, and the appearance of the two Texas Rangers solicits the appropriately skeptical reaction from Dee. Peanut chases the Guy around, whipping him with a blanket. The three climb a mountain together. Dee bursts into song every few minutes. As a musical illiterate myself, the subtleties of the songs were lost on me, but the musical element of the play certainly amped up Dee’s tragic-hero, boy-next-door charm and the sensorial experience as a whole.
The acting from everyone was fantastic. Dee is a frustrated but sympathetic protagonist. Carter, jumping on the Guy’s bed clad in a red, white and blue-striped onesie and carrying a milk bottle, is a perfect child. Peanut is up when the Guy is down, and Slim mediates between the two, shifting from sober to comical within a matter of seconds. Carter and Green are perfect foils and their duet is perhaps the highlight of the play. Sandel and Dee make an equally in-sync pair as Friend and Guy. The pleading friend dismissive mourner set-up between the two becomes a bit tiresome after the third time, though I suppose that’s what tragedy is: a sadness that just keeps repeating.
Although the metaphor of climbing a mountain is (even Dee admits it) a bit cliché, the best thing about the play is the straightforward and unpitying way it deals with grief. The ambiguity of the play’s unnamed tragedy makes it relatable. It is not necessarily important what happened, but the question of whether or not our hero will be able to set foot outside his room, and get to the other side.
After each scene, “The Voice” (Rebeka Rosales) stands and narrates Dee’s climb up the mountain. The onstage manifestation of Dee himself, Rosales gives the audience insight into the mindset of a mountain climber, while tying together the real and unreal facets of the play. Although her monologues were well-written and well-delivered, I thought that The Voice was kind of a shortcut plot device, present only to make up for plot holes and to add in often-unnecessary melodrama and emotional punch. She did give us some helpful mountaineering tips. I kept hoping that the play would drive the metaphor further, but by the end the message didn’t seem to convey more than just — if you’re in a rut, climb your way out of it. For a senior thesis, however, the performance was enough. It was aesthetically beautiful, it was touching, it was well-acted and well-written, and it demonstrated the impressive range of Dee’s and the rest of the cast’s talents. It was an ambitious start to a hopefully illustrious senior thesis season.