Eve Theatre’s current production of Anne Washburn’s “10 Out of 12” dives back into the increasingly visited world of theater about making theater, and it also falls into an emerging and critically lauded style of theater that attempts to chronicle the importance of life’s banality — at a pace that truly reflects reality.
This style of theater — which lacks an official name to the best of my knowledge, but let’s call it ultra realism — is achingly slow. Almost nothing happens. At its best, it teaches the audience to appreciate the tiny moments.
The payoffs and denouement are always minuscule revelations.
The play’s title and action comes from rules set by the stage actors’ union Actors’ Equity Association. That rule says an actor can, at maximum, work 10 out of 12 hours in a day and only during the seven days before a show opens.
So, of course, theaters work actors as hard as they contractually can in the tech week just before a show opens. It allows the director and light and sound designers to fine-tune their end of making a show great.
It’s excruciating and boring — and also wonderful. Washburn tackles the subject with her usual verve and structural daring.
Eve’s production, directed by Gilmer McCormick, isn’t a clean home run. It drags toward the end of the first act and falls short of the transcendence it aims for. But it’s a solid work, featuring a cast that handles the material very well, and McCormick has the confidence in the actors to commit to the pace required by the script.
Additionally, the 14-person cast is an excellent ensemble, which allows a lot of people the opportunity to shine in individual moments. It’ll be impossible to give everyone their due in a single review.
Our first sight as audience members is a dirty theater, trash on the floor, a dust mop and brush tossed out mess-adjacent. With no curtain speech or even a moment to dim the lights, the play opens as the assistant stage manager Jamie (Madison Plucknett) comes on to sweep the stage. It takes a while.
McCormick immediately establishes that we’re not in the businesses of rushing things with this play and that anyone hoping for “Noises Off”-type high jinks ought to quietly exit.
The first moment is one of the best, as Jamie begins to hum an almost recognizable tune and eventually begins to throw in movements that — while not quite dance steps — clearly indicate the dance number happening in her head as she goes about her menial tasks. It’s a moment I suspect anyone who has ever pushed a mop for money recognizes from their own life.
Other people wander on and off, without much happening until the stage manager Molly (Jessica Sharpenstein) walks in on headset and gets things going.
Molly’s entrance is the first salvo in a subdued study of gender and power dynamics. I don’t have numbers in front of me, but the vast majority of stage managers I’ve met and worked with are women. The job takes superhuman levels of focus, patience, organizational skill and, yeah, creativity. It’s as tough a job as that of the director, but it gets a lot less glory.
Directors, on the other hand, are more often men, and a talented director can take the spotlight as surely as a lead actor. Here, Elliot (Hilary Brown) is exactly the sort of self-important ass many theater folks recognize. His fits and tantrums are soothed and satisfied by Molly in whatever fashion best serves their play.
Watching the back and forth between Sharpenstein’s Molly and Brown’s Elliot was a highlight of the evening, though it almost all happened outside of the spotlight.
Sharpenstein is something of a revelation here. I’ve often seen her in the chorus on musicals around town — a production of “Rocky Horror” and “Cabaret” both spring to mind — but her naturalistic delivery and ability to convey a lot with very little demonstrates that she is criminally underused in straight drama.
Brown brings the perfect amount of assholery, leaving Elliot just on this side of likable.
Washburn’s script also gives Brown plenty to work with on that end, and she refuses to let Elliot, or any of the other arrogant men in “10 Out of 12,” function as straw-man villains.
The most obvious villain doesn’t make an entrance for quite some time. And, oddly, he seems to be the most in-focus character of this focus-defying play.
Paul (Phil Lynch) is an aging and self-important actor. By all indications, he’s a great one, too, or perhaps was great once. Paul is singled out structurally by a series of voice-over monologues representing his thought process.
Lynch gives us the material and, later, monologues that happen in scenes with other characters with a consistent quiet intensity.
Paul frequently stops rehearsal for grandstanding speeches about how the play should be better, wasting the time of everyone around him. The clock is ticking and a team player would shut up and get the thing done. But maybe Paul’s also right?
Does transcendent art get made through time-constrained compromise? Again, Washburn throws out questions with no intention of answering them.
Paul also illustrates most clearly that this is a “memory play.” This is an exciting choice by Washburn, with deeply philosophical implications. By slowing the action to real-time speed, she examines how much time we all spend in the past.
The rest of the cast includes several standbys of the Louisville scene. The comedic skills of Gracie Taylor are always appreciated, as are the dulcet tones of Sean Childress.
“10 Out of 12” is a solid outing from a theater company making forward-thinking and brave choices when selecting scripts. It’s certainly worth a viewing for theater patrons, and I suspect its themes of time, memory and power will have a universal appeal, whether or not one is particularly excited about theater about theater.
“10 Out of 12” runs Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 1-3, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 4, at 2:30 p.m. All shows are in the MeX Theater at the Kentucky Center, 501 W. Main St. Tickets are $23.