By Ajani Jones
This article was first published in DC Theater Arts on November 17, 2022 here.
What would you do if you were stranded on a deserted island?
At some point, many have been asked this strange yet common ice-breaker at one social gathering or another. Despite the seeming randomness of the question, the scenario itself is just enough within the realm of possibility to yield genuinely thoughtful, more often than not satirical, responses.
This uncanny hypothetical has somehow crept its way into all facets of pop culture, from books to movies and even theater. In his own unique attempt to capture the unique blend of satire and insight that this odd question breeds, Writer/Director Andy Weld has repurposed the time-honored desert island scenario into the wonderfully hilarious but equally insightful Stranded.
Stranded follows two couples cast away on an uninhabited island following a freak plane accident. After four months of surviving together, the two couples, while navigating the immense stress that comes with such a life-changing accident, have fallen into a strangely comfortable rhythm. However, this new routine is put to the test as the couples continue to learn about one another and face new challenges in their relationships that threaten to exacerbate the stress they are already facing.
The play opens as Serena (Isabelle Solomon) makes yet another, ultimately fruitless, attempt to leave a message for passing planes to come to their rescue while her partner, Jack (Drew Larsen), watches amusedly. As the play progresses, the other couple, Harry (Griffin Duy) and Emma (Sabrina Shahmir), join the pair, and the two couples continue to navigate their strange new dynamic together. It’s later revealed that Harry and Emma have an open marriage, and the fallout of this revelation is felt throughout the rest of the show.
From the play’s opening minutes, it’s clear that these two couples have genuine chemistry. Within each pairing, the actors convincingly portray the tender love and care that exists for them: as Harry gently reassures Emma after she kisses Serena, the audience is easily roped into the sincere love and appreciation the pair has for one another. Furthermore, although each couple is unique in their individual dynamics, their interactions are equally endearing to the audience. While Jack and Serena seem to be the strait-laced couple that eventually learns to explore past their mutual comfort zones, as opposed to Harry and Emma’s innate spontaneity, both pairs seem to deeply care for each other, which helps the audience invest in their journey.
Even on their own, the cast of Stranded is wonderfully charming. Each of the four castaways has a moment in the spotlight where their unique personality is on full display: from Jack’s dry delivery to Harry’s outrageous humor, each member of the cast brings something different that is undeniably compelling and perfectly complements the others, resulting in an incredibly cohesive and fun-to-watch show.
Although marketed as a comedy, Stranded is a surprisingly multifaceted and sincere experience. Weld’s comedic prowess is undeniable as there are countless hilarious moments throughout the show that had the audience genuinely amused. But as the play delved into its themes of polyamory, sexuality, mental health, and trauma, Stranded tactfully explored what it means to love beyond the typical heteronormative experience, and in doing this, adopted a tone of genuine sincerity that elevated the show from just another comedy to a genuinely heartfelt experience.
The technical aspects of Stranded are also rather delightful and work well within the context of the play. In spite of the small stage, the set design by Sara Hussey feels as large as the characters’ dilemma: the scene is set with scraps and driftwood that really sell the deserted island locale. The play also makes creative use of lighting and props to further enhance the audience’s experience. The lighting direction by Jaimie Swann is absolutely stunning and, when paired with the charming fireplace that features as a central gathering point for the couples during night scenes, really helps immerse the audience.
As a whole, Stranded is a delightful experience. In spite of its (unfortunately) short run, its charming wit, charismatic characters, compelling story, and tactful treatment of its themes all work together to cement a wholly positive audience experience.