As two twenty-something young men lounge on a carpeted floor, they are teetering on the precipice of a burgeoning friendship tipping over into an unspoken attraction. Playwright Noah Mease accurately captures their age-appropriate conversational fumbling in his new play Omega Kids. He gives voice to those moments when you desperately want to impress someone but are still in the process of developing who you are. Though the slow-moving play is well-served by the able performers it can take effort to warm to its muted style. Some directorial choices make it harder to embrace it wholeheartedly.
The twenty-somethings in question are Michael (Will Sarratt) who is a huge fan of the comic book series Omega Kids. He is enthusiastically trying to convince Michael (Fernando Gonzalez) to read them by explaining in detail the canon differences between the Omega Kids animated TV series and rebooted comic. The latter Michael got nicknamed “Other Michael” at the gifted teens conference they were working at because Michael was the veteran attendee and Other Michael was the newbie.
Though they’ve only known each other a couple of weeks through the conference, Michael is crashing for one night with Other Michael before Michael heads to New York to start a new job. Offered a makeshift pillow and blanket on the floor and a god-awful alcopop that was in the fridge, Michael is all fidgets, nervousness, and tension. Other Michael basks in his furniture-less space with calming, confident ease.
Over the course of the evening bits of their lives spill out and they edge closer to each other emotionally and physically. Their discussions of sexuality, comic books, capitalism, queer community, and representation are a mix of overconfident pronouncements, tripping discoveries, and ruminations of youth.
The pace of the play is sweetly creeping. Nothing is hurried. There is as much said in subtle physical movement as spoken in their veiled thoughts.
Through lighting, performance, and staging, we sense the increasing dim hour and recognize the bleary-eyed meandering chat that comes with this kind of late-night platonic (or not) sleepover. But director Jay Stull uses strange, cold music and sound in the interstitial beats between scenes. This choice pushes an other-worldly atmosphere on the production. It generates an eerie anticipation which could be anything from alien abduction to this entire play taking place on Mars but ultimately this mystique delivers minimal payoff. As warm as the characters are, this frequent chill breeds an irreconcilable dissonance.
Staged in a black box, we sit single file around the perimeter and perched just above the action. Other Michael’s apartment consists of only the carpet and a lamp. From our position, we gain a perspective on the Michaels as they frequently lay prostrate on the carpet. They leave trails of their hands and feet on the tufted carpet fibers””a tactile reminder of their closeness but allowing them to keep their distance. We are near the non-action so every small gesture can be observed and noted. There’s as much implication in proximity here to rival a Jane Austen novel. Sarratt and Gonzalez beget fully drawn characters with carefully calibrated physical performances (movement is credited to Katie Rose McLaughlin).
As another layer to the work, Mease creates an analogous world between the play and the Omega Kids comic book which Michael keeps referencing. All audience members receive the relevant issue of the comic at their seats. In the darkly lit theater it is difficult to see the comic and follow along with it during the play (in short: the superheroes also have an emotional late night with some revelations). Any added resonance with the comic can only really be gained afterwards with a proper read. Though it’s a cute idea to have this parallel medium, it does not add a tremendous amount to the immediate proceedings.
Mease has made a gentle, small-scale work that with patience has charming moments but this slight tale of connection and longing can feel dragged out at 95 minutes.