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In 'Parallelogram,' a performance to give one pause ... and rewind

In the age of TiVo, rewind can be a viewer's favorite button. Sadly, we can't record and play back those moments in life that we want to do over.

This isn't true for the play "A Parallelogram," written by Bruce Norris and playing at the Mark Taper Forum, because a special remote control allows the character, Bee (Marin Ireland), to replay scenes from her current life. She is aided by an older version of herself, who materializes to share wisdom and surprises about Bee's future. Her boyfriend, Jay (Tom Irwin), is the test subject who, as she hits playback, is unknowingly under the control of her button-happy finger.

This requires actor Irwin to perform scenes on repeat at Bee's whim, sometimes three or four times. He delivers his lines, exits stage left and moments later enters stage right to restart the scene, all to Bee's fascinated amusement. The Times talked with Irwin about the challenges of the role.

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You have to meticulously "replay" certain scenes — what's the secret to performing them identically?

The secret is just running really fast, sprinting. I have to go around the set and into the hallway. In a couple of them I'm actually hitting the stage as the cues are going up.

Have you ever missed your cue?

No, luckily, and I always have to take that deep breath right before I go on stage. ... And I have some ice packs backstage, so I can cool myself down. There's a lot of little secrets. It's making it seem effortless.

How do you bring a new feel to it each time?

There are three or four little tells: I throw my keys, the lawn mower is going outside, and there are some vocal tells, like the pitch of my voice changes in a couple places. There's really a choreography to it — we wanted it to seem realistic the first time I did it, but then also identifiable the next couple of times too.

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Have you ever seen the movie "Click" with Adam Sandler?

No, I haven't.

That's what the remote-control aspect reminded me of. If someone gave you a "life remote," what button would you try first?

I don't have too many regrets in terms of what I would want to go back and try again. You wouldn't be who you are now without those things. I like the idea of just pausing, and taking in and absorbing, because things go by so fast. So a pause button that lets you be more in the moment.

The play seems determined to keep the audience guessing about what's real and what's not.

What I like about this play is that it doesn't provide any of the answers for you. I think, If anything, if someone starts to figure something out, Bruce [Norris] wants to pull the rug out from underneath them. It's what you make of it. It certainly doesn't offer a tidy moral sentiment, and that can be confusing.

The set design [by Todd Rosenthal] offers such seamless transitions through each of these different scenes, how do you think it enhances the story?

Bee is able to move from one space to another in an instant, and it's very disconcerting that her life is sort of happening to her — and that she has no control. For the audience, I think it's very fun because they think they are in one place and then the rug is pulled out from under them, and now everything that is happening is potentially something else.

What about the cast dynamics, especially because there are only the four of you?

Marylouise [Burke] and I did the play three years ago in Chicago and Marin [Ireland] and Carlo [Alban] are new to it. Getting the opportunity to just revisit is a luxury, and yet it's challenging because you can't repeat what's in your muscle memory. It takes a while to get back to the point when you're in control of the play, and the play isn't in control of you, and that's a fun transformation, but it can be a difficult one. It's a very different play than what it was in Chicago.

celine.wright@latimes.com

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