Fringe audiences are more than familiar with the work of Trey Lyford. It’s not September without an appearance by Lyford and/or his rainpan 43 partner, Geoff Sobelle. Their shows (Elephant Room, machines machines machines machines machines machines machines, Amnesia Curiosa and others) delve into the recesses of the mind, often finding magic, darkness and wonder. However, these constants do not define any of their productions, up to and including Lyford’s latest, The Accountant (running at the Christ Church Neighborhood House through September 9), which is every bit as undefinable and unpredictable as the rest.
This newest work places the audience outside of the quotidian life of an accountant, where the mundane is more than just mundane; it’s stark white. The set is littered with plain sheets of paper, and the title character’s desk is cluttered by an additional two-foot stack. The show begins with several minutes of Lyford’s accountant staring blankly in front of him (though not necessarily at anyone or anything) while the sound of quiet static emanates from, it appears, his mind. But it’s not static; it’s the spattering and controlled exhalations of trumpeter Cole Kamen-Green. Like John Cage’s “4’33”,” the audience’s patience is a part of the orchestra. The action begins once the accountant begins searching for a specific form, and the static continues until something unusual happens, signifying a break in the ordinary.
At this point, one might regard the many objects on the desk and in the room – a tape dispenser; a telephone; a personal fan; a coffee mug; etc. And one would be correct in guessing that none of these objects are there by accident, and all of them will be featured in the show. Almost every sheet of paper has a part – they are characters themselves. The desk is a character. Even the accountant’s combover appears significant in this seemingly random menagerie of office elements. How and when they are used, how they come to life and how they are catalysts in the accountant’s past and present drive this performance forward.
The Accountant was inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, in which a man ruminates on old recordings and tries to reconcile his regrets. Here, the memories arrive by way of papers, sometimes moistened and reshaped, sometimes conjured from unexpected places. When the accountant’s daughter (played by Lyford’s 11-year-old daughter, Coralie Holum Lyford) appears late in the show, the paper becomes snow as a cherished yet marred memory is acted out. Another pair of scenes with an abusive-to-the-point-of-incoherent supervisor (Benjamin Bass) offers less hope but similar impact.
While The Accountant features its share of illusions, puppetry and physical drama, it has more ebbs than flows compared to Lyford’s other works. The action scenes are more pronounced than they would be if the pace were quicker, but that makes them effective. The final scene is jarring descent into madness and imagination, leaving the audience with questions about what they just witnessed, which is also common in rainpan 43 pieces, and part of why Lyford’s work is often a highlight at the Philly Fringe Festival.