21 May 2016
Over Before It Began, by Travis Teffner
The MAC produced the opening run of Travis Teffner’s Over Before It Began, which unfortunately seems more like a decision based on the close working relationship between Teffner, David Beach (who directed), and the MAC, than a reflection of the quality of the play itself. The acting was fine, but the play itself is plagued with structural problems.
Over Before It Began does actually have a relatively interesting premise: it takes two characters who have an affair without ever learning one another’s names and attempts to explore the potential for establishing genuine human connection without that most fundamental of identity components—a name. And Teffner played his role (listed in the program as Man) well, in part because it is the kind of role he most excels at: a brooding, vaguely angsty, somewhat angry bad boy with a troubled past. He wrote a role at which he could excel, and it worked for him.
However, the play as a whole has structural problems that really weaken the show. To start off with, the opening portion was extremely slow. We watch a woman (Ashley Shade) somewhat awkwardly rent an apartment, pass Teffner in the hallway, then spend what seemed like five full minutes pulling a mattress, sheets, and a bedside table onto stage. So far, nothing to draw the audience in, nothing to intrigue us. Maybe we were supposed to be intrigued by how Teffner looked at Shade as they passed in the hallway, or the box marked Lindsey he gave to Chaz (David Beach), the security guard to throw away. But neither of these things was enough to pull us in for the slow process of Shade moving in.
Once we get past the slow opening, almost immediately the next thing that happens is Shade seduces Teffner a la Penthouse forum letter, with no explanation ever given, even though her boyfriend is going to be moving in with her in less than a week. And this leads to what was, in my mind, the largest structural flaw of the play—so many short scenes. The scenes were generally broken up by Teffner and Shade preparing to have sex (be really careful not to substitute sex scenes for more substantive character development), and there were so many blackouts. In such a short play—with a run time of roughly an hour—having a dozen blackouts to break up scenes really fragments the story and breaks the audience’s focus on and engagement with the play. Many of the scenes could easily have been combined, which would have given the play better flow and movement rather than interrupting the movement so often. And the fact that the blackouts were frequently long—though very little on stage changed—was an additional practical problem. When I was a techie, the rule of thumb was that if a blackout takes longer than 30 seconds the audience gets restless, and this was for full set changes. If the only change is Teffner grabbing his pants and walking out the door, it shouldn’t take 15-20 seconds in which the audience is sitting in darkness, and that shouldn’t happen a dozen times in the play.