When marriages are the sole focus of a plot, the action usually centers solely around intense marital problems or dramatic affairs. But “Reel to Reel” is different. In the play, written by John Kolvenbach, the audience gets an intimate look into the mundane relationship of two people who were married for 55 years (and three months, as the characters repeatedly joke about). Not much actually happens; the majority of the play revolves around mere conversation or recollections of memories, yet the play remains compelling regardless.
“Reel to Reel,” directed by Kolvenbach himself and put on by Magic Theatre in San Francisco, examines the relationship between Maggie Spoon (Zoë Winters, Carla Spindt) and Walter Harp (Andrew Pastides, Will Marchetti), who meet in their late 20s. These characters — each played by two actors — are seen throughout the entirety of their relationship. The past and present become completely intertwined in this narrative through the medium of mundane, recorded conversations, which act as insights into this long-lived marriage.
The four lead actors — the only performers of the production — all triumph in their respective roles, both shining individually and illuminating each other. Winters and Pastides are captivating as the younger versions of Maggie and Walter, with their palpable chemistry radiating off the stage. Meanwhile, Spindt and Marchetti, as older versions of the couple, present a softer, more subtle rapport that is just as gripping, demonstrating the ease between two people whose lives have become wholly interlaced.The two couples work in perfect conjunction with each other to present the evolution of individuals who build their lives around another.
Unexpectedly, the young Maggie and Walterd are wildly different. This becomes evident in an early scene when they meet at a party and Maggie’s extreme forwardness clashes with Walter’s reserved nature. Oddly enough, this clash of personalities results in the two going home together — the beginning of their many decades with each other. In their older age, their contrasting personalities are still apparent, but the audience gets to see how their verbal sparring is the clearest indication of their lasting, eminently potent chemistry.
In a particularly memorable scene, the couple discuss what they find most irritating about the other person, likening a long marriage to reading the same novel every day — “Eventually the sound of the pages turning will drive you insane.” All four actors participate in this discussion, meaning that the audience is given the perspective of both time periods.
This tactic is used throughout the play, with the dialogue perfectly synchronized — actors never talk over each other, but rather less than a beat after each other, resulting in a captivating fast pace. The past and the present converge to exist at once, giving a broader and more intimate perspective on the relationship.
For instance, their dialogue on irritation is clearly grounded in deep love, which, in juxtaposition to the scenes of discussing their immense affection for each other, present a concrete understanding of the multiple layers of this particular marriage.
Ultimately, Kolvenbach’s beautifully written script, though risky in its unfamiliar format, allows for a unique experience — watching two people simply live their lives together. The actors step into the simplicity of the script and completely bring these characters to full life, highlighting the strength of Kolvenbach’s writing in all its enthralling mundanity. The audience gets to spend the play’s run time immersed in the idiosyncrasies of one distinct couple, in what makes for an extremely special and memorable experience that will linger with the viewer long afterward.
In one of the last lines of the play, Walter says, “My last name is Harp. I’m Walter Harp. That never sounded like me. … For a long time, I was Walter Spoon. I liked that better.” And, as an audience member, what a privilege it is to witness that.
“Reel to Reel” is playing at Magic Theatre in San Francisco through Feb. 25.
Contact Nikki Munoz at [email protected].