The creation of art gives a purpose to so many people in the world. Whether it’s a song, a film, a plate of food, a painted canvas, or a play, the act of conceiving new work drives many to find a purpose in life. Though the output is a necessary release for the artist, the after-effect can be as enchanting: It can inspire an audience to question their outlooks, values, insights, emotions, and such about the human condition. Art connects us; sometimes it imitates life, other times life imitates art. Local playwright Z.F. Mims executes this truth in an endearing way with his latest show, “The Holiday Wrighters,” staged at Old Books on Front St. (249 N. Front St.).
The show is simple but effective: Two playwrights—real-life couple Nick Reed and Arianna Tysinger—meet to discuss a bad review given to one of their recently staged shows. It’s a tough pill to swallow: hearing one’s work ripped apart by another person’s opinion. However, it’s par for the course in this field of playwrighting. Despite the fact they both have received bad reviews—and from some guy who hailed the ridiculous stylings of “Apocalypse Meow,” nonetheless—they pair up to write a new script. The show follows the trappings of two people gelling and challenging each other over work and falling in love over the course of a year. As a perfect parallel to the play, the audience bears witness to life imitating art—or is it vice versa? “The Holiday Wrighters” illuminates an energetic and magical intimacy we cherish in relationships. More so, it shows us first hand how easily sacred interactions can cross over from professional to romantic.
Nick Reed’s character is a ball of animation. His spirited role zips and zooms in a space no larger than 4-by-4 feet, if that. And I am not speaking in terms of his physicality, per se (although, his motions are very unabashed and impacting). Reed has brazen stamina seeping from his pores. One can’t help but love how he concentrates intently and with encouraging zeal on the process of writing a play with a gal he clearly admires and respects. It’s infectious. He speaks Mims’ dialogue with such organic appeal, it feels like Reed wrote the words himself. Maybe it’s because he’s sharing the stage with his fiancé, Arianna Tysinger. Plus, both local actors are best friends with Mims. Thus, the comfort level here is quite relaxing—so much so it puts the audience at ease.
Quite frankly, the whole show is impressive—considering the space is so tiny and only dotted with 10 or 15 chairs. If any ounce of nervous anxiety oozes from the actors, it’s noticeable. But for Tysinger’s character, that anxiety is real. Her tough-as-nails, apathetic approach to growing close to another human naturally breeds fear—a fear that’s visible and familiar to the audience. It’s obvious through her facial expressions and the wall she clearly puts up emotionally. Fear is a great motivator for humans in general. It’s how we face our strengths and weaknesses—which the play touches on—and it’s how we flesh out pressures and expectations of life.
I love it when performances are done in alternative spaces and it works. Hosting this show at Old Books, surrounded by bookcases of used literature, is a perfect choice for “The Holiday Wrighters.” First off, because so many writing groups and book clubs meet at places like this, it’s indicative of where our two characters would go to churn out and discuss their writing. Also, the space adds another dimension of intimacy and authenticity. We feel like we’re happening upon a few interactions that we shouldn’t be privvy to seeing.
The show moves across the course of a year and we’re aware of this thanks to Mims’ lovely interludes on the saxophone. When “Auld Lang Syne” starts, we feel the pressure of “out with the old and in with the new” begin. And as “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” begins at the end, we know we’ve come full circle and hope for a big payoff to work in favor of our characters.
Take an hour to see this fabulous and funny character study, which challenges the idea of connecting and creating. It’s an inspiration of originality.