You may not want to sit with your friends during Red Eye's latest. Here's why.

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Maggie Bearmon Pistner and Maeve Moynihan as Bea at different ages. Andrew Lee Dolan

Audience members arriving at Red Eye Theater for While You Were Out are asked to take a seat onstage, and to choose a side: younger Bea, or older Bea? You may be tempted to keep your group of theatergoers together on one side, but it’s a better idea to split up. After the play ends, you’ll want to know more about what was happening on the other side.

Red Eye Theater
$8-$20

In this technically and dramaturgically ambitious play written by Hayley Finn and co-directed by Finn with Andrew Dolan, each audience member is given a Walkman tuned to one of two radio frequencies. With the headphones on, you hear the inner monologue of the Bea corresponding to your side of the stage; the actors all wear body mics, so you also only hear the spoken dialogue that your Bea is participating in or aware of. Both sides of the stage are visible to all, though, so you inevitably start craning your neck: What’s going on over there?

(I spent Saturday night’s performance on the younger-Bea side, and later talked with audience members who filled me in on what I couldn’t hear across the stage.)

Both versions of Bea, the same character at different points in her life, are celebrating a birthday: The younger Bea (Maeve Moynihan) is turning 28, and the older Bea (Maggie Bearmon Pistner) is turning 58. Both begin their days by reflecting on a book that comes out of a box. It’s the diary kept by Bea’s mother, who died in a car accident when Bea was just seven years old.

The two Beas go on to meet, simultaneously on their respective sides of the stage, with other characters. The younger Bea goes to visit her aunt Ronnie (Miriam Must), while the older Bea has a birthday dinner with her own adult daughter Sasha (Megan Burns). Later, the two Beas meet in a mystical realm where they share a spiritual journey -- alternately poignant and absurd -- inspired by Kabbalah teachings. By the end of the play, they’re both watching a movie with their mother (Chloe Armao).

There’s a lot going on in the busy 80 minutes of While You Were Out, probably too much, but it all holds together in a portrait of a woman who questions her life choices and wonders what her mother would have advised. The material could lend itself to a tear-jerking emotional apotheosis, but Finn and Dolan are more restrained than that. There are no easy answers for Bea, and she comes to understand that her mother might not ever have been able to provide them.

Moynihan, who achieved child-actor fame at venues including the Guthrie Theater and the Children’s Theatre Company, just graduated from the Guthrie’s University of Minnesota BFA program last year. The actor is much younger than her pushing-30 Bea, but she performs with such poise that she reads as mature beyond her years. The pairing with Pistner feels incongruous, though. The two don’t much look or act like one another, so a meeting that should have a strong sense of the uncanny instead feels like two strangers crossing paths in their dreams.

Working with sound designer Peter Morrow, Finn and Dolan pull off an ambitious concept with aplomb. The well-rehearsed cast members have to act in accordance with their own (pre-recorded) inner monologues as well as the visible and audible onstage action, and the entire production reveals careful consideration for detail and nuance.

Does it serve the story, though, to render the thoughts of each Bea opaque to half of the audience? Might the play have packed more punch if the inner monologues had simply alternated, so that the audience would know what’s at stake for both versions of the character as the play approaches its climax? What if the long Kabbalah sequence was trimmed, and the play was presented as two similar acts, with intermission, so that you didn’t have to come back another night to hear the other side of the story?

Regardless, While You Were Out is a unique and intriguing show that rewards attentive viewing. You’ll want to talk about it afterward; in fact, you’ll almost need to.

IF YOU GO:

While You Were Out 
Red Eye Theater
8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 7 p.m. Monday, April 24, and Sunday, April 30.
$20; $8 students; pay-as-able Monday
Through April 30


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