Reality blurred in “Twentieth-Century”

Where is the line between acting and reality?

That’s the question that Warren, played by Logan Luiz ’20, and Brown, played by Jeffrey Nolan ’20, grapple with in “The Twentieth-Century Way.” The one-act play was written by Tom Jacobson and performed on Oct. 27 and 28. The show was put on by Deep End APO, the St. Olaf theater honors society, and directed by Chaz Mayo ’18 and Ian Sutherland ’18. 

In what begins as an improvisation exercise amongst two actors auditioning for the role of “confidence man” – or con-man, for us laypeople – Warren and Brown take on a number of different characters that tell the story of two actors hired by the Long Beach police department to out and arrest gay men in 1914. 

Of Warren and Brown’s many characters, my favorites were the journalist and editor at the Sacramento Bee (obviously). The hurried speech, thick, old-timey accents, aggressive cigar smoking and disgusting clamor for the “truth” had Mayo’s style written all over it. In fact, I think I’ve watched him perform a similar improvisation in the Manitou Messenger office about once a week.

Despite the overwhelming number of transitions, Luiz and Nolan did a good job distinguishing between each scenario. Each new character was marked with a small costume change and a new accent. While the accents needed some work, they were at least different enough to distinguish who was who.

As the show continued, it became more and more difficult to determine which characters were on stage at any given time. It was an intentional choice by Jacobson to make it difficult to tell whether Warren and Brown were still improvising or if they were in fact in a bathhouse, a police department or a court room. The gradual, building fuzziness between scenes was brilliant, and it set the audience up for the I-don’t-know-what’s-real-anymore ending. Luiz and Nolan pulled it off beautifully.

The most impactful part of the play was by far the last twenty minutes, during which I was extremely confused, but enjoying it. Warren and Brown begin to blur the line between staging homosexual acts and actually enjoying them, and the real message of the show comes through – that acting sometimes isn’t acting.

“The line between the actor and role blurs and turns hazardous,” Brown said. “Have we become our parts? Gotten emotionally involved?”

What I also found compelling was the show’s more subtle commentary on love, intimacy, pleasure and morality. A specific physical tension between Warren and Brown was evident from the first scene, and while I originally interpreted it to represent clashing masculinity between the two men, the tension developed into a more panicked, sexual intimacy that both characters worked desperately to put on the other. The show also highlights how seduction can be used by one party to exercise power over another, and how the intimacy of less-gratuitous physical acts such as kissing can be incredibly revealing and intimate. The two characters spend the entire show doing anything but kissing, which makes their kiss at the end incredibly impactful.