For the record, new works are relevant, inspiring and important. Runyonland Productions, the newest professional theatrical production company based out of the University presented the new play “For The Record,” written by University faculty member Geoff Packard, this past weekend. Runyonland was founded by School of Music, Theatre & Dance senior Thomas Laub. To kick off their inaugural season in Ann Arbor, the company presented a fresh, insightful and heartbreaking new play in which the protagonist is battling loss due to Huntington’s disease, a fatal genetic disorder. The production set was mounted in the Duderstadt Center Video Studio, an intimate space that has the ability to utilize projections and video to supplement live productions.
The play opens on Rob (played by BFA Musical Theatre Senior Blake Roman), a young, troubled musician and associate engineer for a recording studio in New York City. Rob had recently fled his hometown unannounced after his father’s passing due to suicide when his Huntington’s disease became too troubling to live with. Rob’s family and girlfriend, miles away, have not been able to locate him and Rob’s crippling grief clouds his desire to connect with them at all. Rob is working the overnight shift at the studio when D.C., an older, spunky gentleman, books time to record an album. It is discovered by the audience, and later by Rob himself, that the coincidences that begin to arise between the two are not coincidences at all. D.C’s desire to record an album in the studio has to do with more than just music, and the mystery that unravels forces Rob to confront the terrors of his disease and the longings of his family.
The script, while dealing with the dense topics of suicide, fatal disease and depression, does a nice job of mingling the heavy moments with lighthearted humor. This juxtaposition sits well with Rob’s character — a troubled, grief-ridden 28-year-old who is witty, sarcastic and infatuated with music. Rob and D.C., the two characters who spend the most time on stage, are nicely developed, each with their own troubles and quirks. D.C. is extremely amiable and sloppy on the surface, but as a whole, rather loveable, bringing comedic relief to his initial tough and brash interactions with Rob. As the two spend more time together in the studio, Rob begins to crack open, becoming rather sensitive and thoughtful — his irritable rage only a front he uses in order to protect himself. The dialogue was genuine and realistic, providing an interior view into the characters’ lives.
The script is supplemented with original music, which did a nice job of telling the story. My only wish is that there was more. It was incredibly fitting with the stakes of the story and greatly supplemented the wonderfully written script. Rob, a closeted songwriter and guitarist, spends the play grappling with his desires to record his own music. Pieces of his songs, in addition to D.C.’s original music, break up the scenes naturally. In addition to the music, the creative team used the Duderstadt Video Center’s technical abilities to supplement scene changes with video montage and photographs that evoke feelings of nostalgia and sentimentality.
Blake Roman’s Rob was perfectly cast. His raspy vocals and raw, vulnerable portrayal of a character riddled with anguish and desolation were well fitted for the role. This created an incredibly authentic performance by Roman, who spends the entire 90-minute play on stage. Joining him in the cast was Tommy Gomez as D.C. and SMTD Musical Theatre senior Sydney Shepherd playing Rob’s anxious and lovestruck girlfriend Morgan. The three worked nicely in the space, picking up on one another’s cues and inviting the audience into an intimate story in which the stakes were high and the situation was delicate and vulnerable. Placing such a narrative in the angsty, indie music studio was a nice choice, providing a casual and compact atmosphere in which Rob and D.C. both underwent emotional and mental transformations in the nine or so hours they spent in such close quarters.
Overall, the space lent itself to inviting the audience into the story. It felt private and close, allowing the characters to feel like people we knew, allowing us to relate, on some level, to their struggles. Writer and director Geoff Packard created “For the Record” with a great deal of heart. The piece is riddled with metaphor and symbolism, hilarious one-liners and poignant messages about the significance of art, the importance of family and the process of grief.
“Sometimes we just need each other,” was one line that resonated with me long after I left the space. In this day and age, we do need each other, and human connection specifically is an important antidote to our current socio-political atmosphere. What Geoff Packard and the team with Runyonland Productions did with “For the Record” was create a space for a new work to be explored and celebrated. Something that made this play really special was its inherent ability to transcend entertainment, giving the audience the gift of a new story along with intimate human connection.