Know this: You probably have a better chance of being struck by lightning, twice, in the same spot, during the same storm, than of seeing a single version of 52 Pick Up more than once.
Named after the "game" your older siblings made you play when they threw a deck of cards in the air and made you retrieve them all, the Manitou Art Theatre guest production, not surprisingly, begins in the same manner.
At the outset of each performance, actors Gemma Wilcox and Sam Elmore shuffle and cut a deck of cards, on which the names of 52 different scenes are written. When they collectively toss them skyward, the story of a whirlwind relationship begins, tracking the flirtatious beginning to the heartrending end. But not, of course, in that order.
One by one, the duo randomly picks cards from the floor, reading the title, then performing the scene.
"The incredible thing is that we can't rely on an emotional arc in the play," says Wilcox, "but we can generate and share this experience with the audience, even though none of us know where the story is going to go next."
What makes this a fascinating dramatic device is not the obvious — that we may see an explosive argument followed directly by a scene like "Bliss," in which the lovers dance on a cloud of pure adoration. Instead, it's that such a juxtaposition mirrors the way we recall (and experience) our own relationships.
Each incongruent scene illustrates an experience that is universal, whether joyful or painful, intimate or distant.
As Elmore says, "Since we get to commit to the emotional truth [of each scene], the audience really gets swung around, but once they get used to it, they can insert their own memories of their relationships into the play."
Wilcox — who is becoming an MAT fixture, having brought one-woman performances Shadows in Bloom earlier this year and The Honeymoon Period is Officially Over in 2007 — became interested in 52 Pick Up two years ago. While at the Orlando Fringe Festival, she caught a Seattle company called Theater Simple performing the show, which was originally co-written by Rita Bozi and Canadian playwright and "fringe theatre god" (Wilcox's words) TJ Dawe.
"I was coming towards a breakup and it really resonated with me," Wilcox says.
The now-31-year-old had been winning awards for her own solo work for many years on fringe tours in Canada and decided it was time to try someone else's script on the road. After holding auditions for the role of "man" in Boulder, her home of the past five years (she's originally from central London), she picked Elmore, also 31 and a seasoned director and performer with a masters degree in somatic psychology.
"He was the only one I could really feel and hear breathing on the stage," she says.
That acting chemistry has yielded consistently sold-out shows nationwide and a "Pick of the Fringe" award at the Boulder International Fringe Festival last August.