Kid Simple by Jordan Harrison at Forum Theatre and Dance
We Are Not These Hands by Sheila Callaghan at Catalyst Theatre Company
BFF by Anna Ziegler at WET in NYC
I wanted to write individual postings/reviews of the theater I’ve been seeing recently but time and energy has not been on my side. I could hold off and think, maybe next week, but I’m sure they would all just be buried in my ever growing list on incomplete postings. So what you are about to read is really just fragments of reviews and thoughts on the past three shows I’ve seen.
Also, just as a side note: all of the following shows are written by young contemporary playwrights and all together, I think, create an interesting look at the future of playwriting and theater.
Forum Theater and Dance (where I am a soon-to-be company member) prides themselves on productions that explore multi-genre collaboration. In their most recent show, Kid Simple, that collaboration shines. Jordan Harrison’s script challenges how the senses react to theater by focusing on sound. He has created a radio play for stage. Sound is undoubtedly the star, the stage is filled with instruments of sound which are craftily used by an on stage Foley artist. But beyond that, Jordan challenges how we listen to sound. As the Foley artist produces sounds, projections behind him tell us what we are hearing. Some projections make perfect sense, some do not, but they both help guide us on the adventure. As the play reaches it’s climax sounds get distorted we are forced to listen closely, to put the pieces together. The audience must become active and hear beyond the screeching that appears instead of words. Jordan (and the Forum team) has created an adventure for both the characters and the audience. Some of the story gets lost in all the hubbub, for example the evil cave dwellers are never fully explained, but it is impossible for the audience not to get caught up in the story of a high school inventor out to save the world.
Sheila Callaghan is another playwright very aware of the language that she uses. It takes a few minutes for the audience to become comfortable with the language she has created in We Are Not These Hands. The two young guttersnipe’s we are first introduced to, speak as if they created their own slang after learning rudimentary English with handfuls of computer jargon thrown in. The language makes sense as we learn that we are in a indescribable third world country – though it could just as easily be a post-nuclear war American city, it is some sort of twisted sad future – that could be in existence today. The play is at root a love story, a frequently told tale of people who are lost finding connection. The acting in Catalyst’s production was top notch as was the directing by City Mouse. Sheila Callaghan’s combination of traditional storytelling with non-traditional language is something to look out for.
Anna Ziegler is a former DC resident and Theater J did a reading of her play Novel earlier this year. I’ve read many of her plays and am always thrilled by her poetic use of language. BFF is her first production and I was glad to get the chance to see it on my visit to NY. The play splits time as Lauren comes to grips with the traumatic aftermath of her friend’s death. Lauren and Eliza were best friends, as they move from elementary school to middle school and beyond, they grow apart. Lauren strives to be cool, Eliza strives to keep her self together after her father’s death. When it all proves to be too much for her Eliza turns to controlling the only thing she can – her body. Lauren blames herself for Eliza’s death (due to anorexia). Ten, or more, years later Lauren is still struggling. She meets the ‘perfect’ man – a blend of awkwardness and coolness – she knows Eliza would have liked him and she inadvertently introduces herself as Eliza. The play is melodramatic. It certainly worked for me, I’m a sucker, and I was in tears. But looking back with a more critical eye, i wished for a bit more depth. There were some unexplored avenues the play could have gone. It felt that the writing was still a little young, a little green, but I think that Anna will get there. I think her writing is very strong and as she gets older her writing will mature more. I expect wonderful things from her.