Here's a sweet little irony for you: The Satori Group is presenting Never Swim Alone, a playlet about America's obsession with winning, weekends through Nov. 4 at The Carnegie in Covington. Satori itself won (and abundantly deserved) a Pick-of-the-Fringe award last June for iLove, their engaging, thoughtful, visually diverting investigation into how and who and what Americans love -- often obsessively.
In Swim Satori takes stage with much the same poise, clarity and confident authority that marked iLove. Director Andrew Lazarow establishes a tone of playful yet menacing civility, then carefully contains his players within it until calm no longer serves the play's investigative purpose. Then he lets all hell break loose.
At first, competitors Adam Standley and Alex Matthews and referee Greta Wilson execute their dialogue with clipped, emotion-damped efficiency. Then the men reach flashpoint and the yelling begins. There's an exploding climax that's as violent as it is inevitable.
Early in the vying Lazarow moves his actors about with choreographed precision, like animated chess pieces seeking advantage. They carefully observe the obscure rules and structure of a TV "reality" show. But then the challenges get tougher.
Frank (Standley) and Bill (Matthews) shake free of constraint, unleash atavistic urges, rip through civilization's tissue-thin veneer and go for broke.
The object is to win, dammit, win. Screw the rules. Screw civilized competition. There's winning and there's oblivion. You're No. 1 or you're nothing.
The playlet is by an endlessly fecund writer-actor-director-founder-competitor, Daniel MacIvor, himself an OBIE (Off-Broadway) Award winner. It is, however, somewhat less rewarding than Satori's crisp presentation.
MacIvor's educated, elegant, sartorially splendid gladiators compete for handholds up their corporate ladders. They seek trophies of advancement in their dreamscape suburbias. They must wear the best clothes and carry the most expensive briefcases. They must attend the most exclusive parties. The must seek advantageous affairs, often with each other's wives.
MacIvor makes them moderately diverting new illustrations of the winning-is-everything premise, but they offer little fresh illumination.
By midway of Swim's 55-minute running time, it runs afoul of its TV show format. Pace falters; it grows repetitive as "round" after "round" ends, and the referee holds one or the other competitor's arm aloft -- until, of course, one competitor takes exception to a call. That's when the knock-down, drag-out fight erupts, a fight so realistically choreographed (Rachel Mock) and so well "acted" that momentarily you change empathies and begin to worry more about the actors' bruises than the characters' advantages.
Never Swim Alone is the sort of material upon which Fringe Festivals thrive and from which they derive their enormous rewards. Produced within a festival environment with viewers trooping from venue to venue, seeing several plays a day, it would look like a knockout winner. Standing alone, even as well done as it is, it seems a little short on impact. Nor is it especially well suited to The Carnegie, where the high, removed stage denies it the smell-the-sweat immediacy from which it would profit.
Satori opens its next show, Charles Mee's Investigation of the Murder in El Salvador, at The Carnegie on Nov. 8 for two weekends of performances. Grade: B
NEVER SWIM ALONE, presented by the Satori Group, continues at The Carnegie in Covington through Nov. 4. See performance times, buy tickets and find nearby bars and restaurants here.