Convolution evolution: Updated “Pip & Twig” at Live Arts

Photo courtesy of Doug Berndt. Photo courtesy of Doug Berndt.

Adult identical twins Pip and Twig live an insular, codependent existence. Wearing identical pajamas, they wake in their shared bed at the same time every morning and eat identical breakfasts before going about their daily childlike, tandem routine, clothed in identical dress-and-sweater outfits.

So begins The Convolution of Pip and Twig, a play created from scratch by PEP theater troupe members Kara McLane Burke and Siân Richards, and brought to life by a slew of area artists, including local theater mainstays Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell, who wrote the text, and Martha Mendenhall, who directs Burke (Pip) and Richards (Twig) in the play.

As Pip and Twig go about their routine in the first act, they’re entirely aware of the audience before them. Pip, the more dominant twin, loves to sing and dance and gets a total rise performing for a crowd.

But Twig tires of the twin act. Fed up, she absconds out the window of the twins’ apartment to discover the world. Pip, unwilling to let go of the life she’s orchestrated, nevermind allowing Twig to experience the world without her, follows.

It’s a play about the complexity of human relationships, about how to be with other people while also finding your own identity. It’s a play about “listening to the little twinklings in your heart,” says Richards.

Last summer, Burke, Richards and a small crew from Charlottesville took the play to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where they performed it more than 20 times over the course of a few weeks. But they weren’t done: The Convolution of Pip and Twig had evolved.

Charlottesville theater-goers have seen The Convolution of Pip and Twig before; Burke and Richards have performed it a few times in town, most recently last July before heading to Edinburgh. And while the play itself hasn’t changed—the text, the characters, the narrative, the sequence of events and the costumes all remain—Burke and Richards decided to change the set, all in the name of finding new things to explore in the play.

In previous performances, when Twig hops out the window and embarks on her adventure, she sails the sea in a tiny boat. While Burke and Richards loved the image, after performing the play so many times in sequence at Edinburgh Fringe, they discovered that that particular choice limited Richards’ performance of Twig, a character who is, at long last, captain of her own ship.

The pair are tight-lipped about the new set, which they created with set designer JP Scheidler (with help from set painters Zap McConnell and John Owen), but they’ll offer a little bait: The new set is smaller and more contained, so it’s harder for the twins to get around one another, adding to the sense of claustrophobia Twig feels at the hands of the well-intentioned but domineering Pip. At the same time, though, Burke says the set is “like Twig’s fantasy come true.”   

After putting years of effort—creative, emotional, physical, financial—into something, you want to keep working on it until you feel like, “okay, that’s what the thing can do,” Richards says. “You want to hone it until it feels like it can’t be honed any more” because it’s in its final form.

It’s not likely that the ship has sailed on The Convolution of Pip & Twig, but for now, its course, charted for more than a dozen performances at Live Arts’ Gibson Theater in September, is clear.

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