If you've ever watched a crime drama on television, you probably have seen the subject matter of the play that opens Actors Guild of Lexington's 28th season, Breathing Corpses.
Inevitably, some minor character is taking out the trash or going for a jog in the park when he or she stumbles upon a dead body. The police arrive, the whodunit plot takes over, and the body's discoverer disappears into the background.
But what happens to those folks who stumble upon death? Do they just go about their ordinary lives, untouched by the experience? Or does it stick with them, haunting them in different ways?
British playwright Laura Wade's one-act script explores the complex effects that a close encounter with death might have on the living.
A series of five seemingly unrelated scenes about the discovery of a body is presented in non-linear time in a narrative structure that Wade calls "a perfect circle." The characters and actions of each scene might seem unrelated and chronologically amiss, but Wade leaves subtle clues throughout the script that eventually reveal the true connection among the characters.
Breathing Corpses debuted to rave reviews in March 2005 in London. Actors Guild artistic director Eric Seale bought the script while attending a theater conference last year and immediately was taken with Wade's work.
"It had the same effect on me as when I read Pillowman the first time," Seal says, referring to Martin McDonagh's critically acclaimed play, which Actors Guild mounted in 2008. "It's so inventive and different, and not like everything else. I love how contemporary it is."
Seale, who directs the play, describes it as part comedy, part drama and part mystery.
Wade "takes a relatively simple premise — Amy (a chambermaid) walks into the hotel room, and there's a body in the bed — and she goes in this remarkable direction with it," Seale says. "Then you get into the play, and there are these much bigger concepts happening, like the interconnectedness of seemingly unrelated characters and the circular nature of time."
The circular plot structure proved a challenge and an inspiration to Seale, whose design team came up with an innovative way to underscore its importance.
"When we were looking at the way the play runs, we thought transitions would just kill it," Seale says. "Each scene is in a totally different location, and we thought it's really going to kill the flow no matter how clever we get with it, and then we started talking about the circular nature of the play."
As a result, Seale and Tommy Gatton co-designed a set with a revolving stage, with Gatton and Brian Sprague collaborating on its construction. Seale hopes the revolving set will emphasize the non-linear nature of Wade's script.
"We've tried to heighten that in our staging, with this revolve," Seale says, "to sort of help play on that nature of the circle."
The five seemingly disparate scenes occur out of order, with scene 1 following scene 2, for instance.
"It's hard to explain unless you see the play," Seale says of Wade's unorthodox plot structure, "but if you put the scenes into a linear time line, then it doesn't really work. It's like a snake eating its own tail."
Seale says sharing Wade's inventiveness in subject matter and narrative structure with local audiences is in line with AGL's mission.
"It fits what we do and what we're about so much," he says. "When I sat down to do this season, I really wanted to dig into the AGL mission and really take it somewhere and get some plays that I didn't think other people would want to do, and focus on things that AGL should be doing."