“OK, the playwright just blew up her own play” may be your reaction at intermission of Park Square Theatre’s “Cardboard Piano.” “What on earth is going to happen now?”
There’s a lot of that sort of thing in “Cardboard Piano,” which is not particularly interested in the Aristotelian rules of drama. You could argue, for instance, that it is really two short plays rather than one play, although you’d lose that argument. Each act does have its own cast of characters, and they are separated by 14 years.
But, in its idiosyncratic way, the second act deepens and resolves issues from the first act, where a tryst in Uganda by same-sex lovers Chris (Adelin Phelps) and Adiel (Kiara Jackson) turns tragic when they are found out by a young soldier.
It’s best not to say too much more about the twisty plot. Playwright Hansol Jung is an ambitious writer, and her boisterous work probably has more action — and more coincidence — than any one play can support, but there’s something thrilling about her reach. She tackles big topics, such as war, gender and reconciliation, with a surprisingly light touch. She also pulls off the difficult feat of making us fall for her first set of characters, then miss them when we return from intermission, then almost instantly embrace a whole new set of characters.
In the absence of spoilers, here are a couple of things I can say: In the first act, you may worry that the gifted Ansa Akyea is not being given enough to do, but just wait for his magnificent work in the moving second act. Like me, every time you see the intelligent Phelps on stage, you may have several frustrating minutes of thinking, “Whom does she remind me of?” so let me save you some time. It’s Anna Kendrick. And, if I were you, I’d start keeping your eyes peeled for the name Kiara Jackson. I don’t think I’ve seen her before “Cardboard Piano,” but her characters, a young lover and a drolly matter-of-fact pastor’s wife, brim with a unique vitality and wit.
The actors are so good — in the least flashy roles, Michael Jemison is also excellent — that it’s a shame the physical production isn’t up to their standards. Director Signe V. Harriday’s staging of a suspenseful, first-act search is hampered by spatial issues on stage, and a church in the second act is an attempt to pull off a realistic set on Park Square’s basement stage, where it’s tough to make that work. Here, the chunks of church scenery propped against a wall of black drapes resemble nothing more than a ’90s cable-access talk show.
Never mind all that. One thing this production makes clear is that Jung’s strong, clear voice is perfectly capable of busting through a couple of drab curtains. I can’t wait to hear more of it.