Smorgasbord-style collaborations in the theatre all tend to share a few of the same characteristics. On one hand, the diverse range of material offers a number of unique perspectives on a common theme, and the small, digestible chunks are appealing to a culture raised largely on Chinese food and television. On the other, the quality of the individual pieces is often marked by the same diversity. 8-0-8 Productions’ Now and Fornever meets these expectations to a tee, though the quality–far from reflecting the show’s amateur roots–only ever moves between the merely competent and the sublime.
As a series of vignettes written on the common theme of loss, it would be easy to expect Now and Fornever to fall into a crying-in-the-rain, emo-kid cliche. Fortunately, the worst flaws it has are a few confused messages, some rough pacing and one piece whose ending can only be described as a bat-shit insane version of a shaggy dog joke. Considering that the young men and women behind the production were working with a semi-avant garde presentation and scripts rife with pain, misery and death, the small imperfections it has are a relief, and far easier to overlook than they may have been.
Oddly, the show’s two strongest components, Quantum Entanglement and Apple, Mine, are the two that edge the closest to the love-song stereotype. The former tells the ancient story of a guy, a girl and an epic love ruined by a single misunderstanding with a charm that will leave even the most jaded with a tiny smile and tingly fingertips. As adorable as the coffee-spoon poetry can be, the purple language could have easily collapsed on itself if not for the charisma of the performers. The script’s remarkable honesty and attention to detail is assisted by the overt chemistry between Tim Nguyen and Anastasia St. Amand, who take the principal roles. While Entanglement may still have been written while listening to Celine Dion, it’s the playfulness with which the cliches are approached that makes it great.
Conversely, if Apple, Mine was inspired by a love song, it wasn’t a sappy one. The heart-wrenching story of a life itemized and packed away into shoeboxes is illustrated with enough bitter irony, provocative imagery and clever metaphor to bring its simple plot well out of the pedestrian and into the outstanding. Though the writing shines as the high-point of the piece, the subtle use of actors as set-pieces–an idea attempted, but never fully realized in a few of the others–does a great deal toward painting a picture of an acerbic world glossed over and gussied up by pretense.
The additions of Entanglement and Apple, though raising the mean quality of the performance, have an aftertaste that overpowers many of the other pieces entirely. Like going back to plain rice after special-fried, it’s hard not to wish the whole effort lived up to the high-standards set by the two excellent parts, or at least that the gap in quality wasn’t as wide. While Now and Fornever would be cute, fun and still worth checking out without them, Entanglement and Apple are what make it truly worthwhile. The rest are just sort of padding out the order so you can get the free fortune cookies.