Sarah Silverman is a legendary comic and she may have been born with a funny bone. But how did she morph into the talented comedian who has a musical production about her early life, playing eight times a week at the Atlantic Theater Company? We discover the inspirations that planted the seeds comedicsuccess in the very humorous, irreverent pop music show The Bedwetter. Based on Silverman’s memoir The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, the theater adaptation highlights the most important year of Sarah Silverman’s life, a year that intimated the possible future success Silverman would offer in her unique comic grist.
With book by Joshua Harmon and Sarah Silverman, lyrics by Adam Schlesinger and Sarah Silverman, music by Adam Schlesinger, choreographed by Byron Easley with creative consultation by David Yazbek, The Bedwetter is a hoot. Also, it is ironically woven with themes about divorce, mental illness, childhood angst and dysfunctional families. The two act musical briskly unfolds via the comical and exuberant perspective of precocious, potty-mouth Sarah played by the uber talented and sharply focused Zoe Glick.
Glick is a wunderkind. Her pacing, nasal singing voice and edgy delivery reveal she is a natural. She portrays Sarah as a loving, exhausting, “in-your-face, quick-witted love bug who goes through a series of disastrous events at the worst time in her life. The momentous problems occur at the formative age of ten-years-old when she has to go through her parent’s divorce, her mother’s increasing depression, her father’s philandering with most of the moms in town, and a move which forces her to attend a different middle school where she has no friends.
Though she manages to face these cataclysms with the help of her alcoholic Nana played by the inimitable Bebe Neuwirth in a wonderful turn, there is one issue which is insurmountable. She is a bedwetter. The secret remains among family and perhaps former friends, however, it cramps her style with making new acquaintances. Not only is she embarrassed because she is “too old” to wet the bed, her terrible debility infantalizes her. Thus, she feels inferior and demeaned by a condition she can’t control. The opening number (which also closes the show in a beautifully made sandwich) “Betterwetter” encapsulates all of her issues. Glick sings it with zing, verve and joy.
Interestingly, wetting the bed at her age, we note, must be related to her parents’ divorce, the move and inner stress. And then we discover that it is genetic. Her father Donald (the humorous Darren Goldstein who rocks many women’s boats) also wet the bed. However, as he enjoys reminding her, he did grow out of it. Sarah wonders when that wonderful occasion will happen in her life to end the emotionally painful stigma.
As we follow Sarah who introduces us to her family, we meet her sister Laura (Emily Zimmerman) who disowns her in school and puts up with her at home, decrying she doesn’t know who she is and how she is a part of the family. Interestingly, in Act II, Laura’s approach changes after Sarah’s life takes nullifying downturn. And when Nana has to be hospitalized, the Laura softens her attitude toward Sarah. Then the sisters unite and become close again. As Laura, Emily Zimmerman works the transformation from annoyances to hypocrisies to fear and concern for Sarah in a fine and authentic acting and singing performance.
Sarah’s mother Beth Ann, normally portrayed by Caissie Levy covered by Lauren Marcus the night I saw the production is only capable of staying in bed and watching television. We learn why this situation abides in the second act when a fight erupts between Beth Ann and Nana and the truth spills out. It is then we understand Beth Ann’s depression and feel empathy for her. However, Nana ends up becoming sick over the remembrance of what happened. Indeed, her hospital stay reveals self-punishment and feelings of guilt for she feels responsible for events that cause Beth Anns’ depression.
Considering the circumstances of her caved-in life, Beth Ann does the best she can. She is aware of Donald’s philandering, one cause for the divorce. However, he is a good father. He provides enough money to take care of the family and eventually pay for Sarah’s treatments to stop her bedwetting. Also, he is there for his two daughters. Likewise, though Beth Ann’s debilitating depression hinders her for “normal” activities, she stands by her children and when Sarah needs her most, she is present for her.
Initially, Sarah, encouraged by Nana (Bebe Neuwirth comes prepared with an authentic accent and bright, cheerful demeanor) who tells her she can do anything, coasts into school. We are impressed as Sarah’s humor and agreeability eventually lures the girls in her classes to be her friends, rendered in an adorable song with Charlotte Elizabeth Curtis (Ally) Charlotte MacLeod (Abby) and Margot Weintraub (Amy).
Mrs. Dembo their teacher (the very funny Ellyn Marie Marsh) tries to inspire them to hone their talent like Mrs. New Hampshire did (the lovely voiced, effervescent and funny Ashley Blanchet) for their school is presenting a talent show. Sarah and her friends begin to practice songs for the show, inspired by the golden tones of Mrs. New Hampshire. When they practice together, they are crackerjack astounding with their harmonies and seriousness in “getting the number right.” They should form a girl band.
After Sarah invites her new friends to her Dad’s house, they are impressed. Darren Goldstein’s philanderer number as Donald brought the house down when I saw the show. The men loved his machismo, which he manages in the ethos of a hapless idiot far from a hot, “know-it-all” arrogant lothario. His balance in achieving a hysterical, irreverent unpolitically correct and refreshing tone is well shepherded by director Anne Kauffman.
The ease that Donald presents with Sarah and her friends opens a door of hospitality so that Sarah is invited to a sleep over. She almost doesn’t go because she will wet the bed and the girls use the occasion to add to her horrific embarrassment. But her mother unthinkingly tells her she’ll be OK. Meanwhile, Donald tries to find cures for Sarah which result in a very funny bit between the hypnotist portrayed by Rick Crom who is brilliant and whose voice is excellent for the role. Unfortunately, the hypnosis doesn’t work and the hypnotist sings a counterpoint duet with Sarah underscoring that he’s a fraud as she sings that the hypnosis doesn’t work.
When Sarah goes to the sleepover, she has an accident. What happens after this event reaches into catastrophe. However, Silverman’s horrors come with great humor and irony. The number that takes place in the psychiatrists office is farcical in a great way, for the doctor (Crom) sings the praises of the latest cure for depression, the diagnosis he gives Sarah. As the doctor Crom leads the large dancing yellow Xanaxes that come alive to sing along with him about their wonderous effects. Crom attests to their ebullience as he flutters and skips high as a kite on Xanax. The number is one of the best in the show, as well as the most sardonic. Just great!
As the good doctor and singing dancing Xanaxes move off stage, Sarah desperate to do anything to stop her debility pops her pills for “depression.” We shudder understanding that Sarah is too young to take such powerful drugs, but it is a fact that Big Pharma likes to get folks hooked as young as possible. Instead of stemming her depression, anxiety and sorrow, Sarah joins her mom in bed where together the sing of their troubles and their hopes.
Ironically, the depression that Xanax is supposed to cure throws her into a full-blown depression so she must take more to attempt some relief. Once again, the cure is worse than the condition. The resolution does arrive to reveal the need for redemption for the family and salvation for Sarah who is still wetting the bed.
The deus ex machina (a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and unlikely occurrence) arrives when Miss New Hampshire appears in a dream. She tells Sarah about her secret which brings the child confidence in knowing that this lovely, talented woman had the same problem. Maybe there is hope for her after all. By the conclusion of this wacky and warm musical, Sarah takes the stage in the talent show and cracks open her wild and authentic comedy number (which we’ve been watching). The show ends with the rousing song “The Bedwetter” sung by the cast, and our delectable farce sandwich concludes.
The production is excellent, though it is “dirty” and “uncouth” and unpolitically correct and indecent for younger girls (that’s for the NEWSPEAK thought police on “the left” and “the right,” reference to 1984 by George Orwell). Anne Kauffman has rehearsed the cast to a fine rhythmic pace, rapid fire delivery of quips and jokes and acute pauses for timing which add to the overall hilarity and upbeat performances.
Nevertheless, when the show turns to the dark side, all of the issues break wide open and we can empathize with what this family has gone through to make it to the next day. Of course the struggles and strains provide the foundation for Silverman’s comedy and engender her growing up beyond her years, sustained by cracking jokes to forestall the misery. Indeed, misery and humiliation provide the meat upon which Thalia, the muse of comedy feeds. Silverman and Thalia are besties in this production. And Silverman’s and Harmon’s and Schlesinger’s book and lyrics inspired by the immortal acquaint us, the actors and director with her finer points of merriment.
The cast works seamlessly as an ensemble. Their voices are powerfully resonant and spot-on. Each of the leads remains precisely authentic in their own songs, whose lyrics are humorous, sometimes wildly hysterical, but always pealing out the human condition.
Kudos to the set design which was functional, variable and effectively minimalistic (Laura Jellinek). Costumes by Kaye Voyce showed up the Ad dancers and Miss New Hampshire well. Japhy Weideman’s lighting, Kai Harada’s sound, Lucy Mackinnon’s projections, Kate Wilson’s dialects made the production’s themes cohere. The music team is exceptional. These include: Dean Sharenow (music supervisor & coordinator) Henry Aronson (music director) and David Chase (orchestrations).
This is one to see for its exuberance, fun, laughter and poignant moments, too rendered by the fine performances of the ensemble and sensitive, balanced direction, keeping the humor in the pathos. For tickets and times to The Bedwetter that runs about two hours go to their website: https://atlantictheater.org/production/the-bedwetter/
Born into our parents’ culture and country, we learn how to communicate with them easily and take our language for granted without thinking about it. Delving deeper, language defines us, defines our thoughts, our ways. Our name in our native language has meaning from its history. It describes who we are and how we perceive ourselves. Many change their names as a result, knowing the change means a different self. Considering the import of the language we speak and our identification with it, how does learning a new language impact the way we understand ourselves? How might learning another language effect our being?
English, the insightful and powerful work by Sanaz Toossi, presents these questions and answers them poignantly through the voices of five individuals from Iran, who grapple with learning English. Starring an all-Iranian cast, the play enjoyed an extended run at The Atlantic Theater Company and most probably will be a favorite to be staged globally. Directed by Knud Adams, the play remains an original that unfortunately, couldn’t have had a longer run.
The setting is Karaj, Iran in 2008 before and during a confluence of events taking place between Iran, the United States and other English speaking countries. At the time immigration is fairly easy and Iranians on the move want to study abroad, do business and travel for extended stays to English-speaking countries to which their families emigrated.
Marjan (Marjan Neshat portrays the instructor), teaches for the TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language. The standardized, timed test measures the English language ability of non-native speakers, who wish to study in English-speaking universities. The test is accepted by more than 11,000 universities and other institutions in over 190 countries. The selective test guarantees that the students have an excellent working knowledge of the language to insure their success, not only in their classes, but also in navigating the culture and society.
As Neshat’s Marjan teaches, she realizes as we do that in every class there is a dynamic. Personalities emerge. Though she attempts to be objective, she finds herself aligning with students who demonstrate like-minded abilities and cognition. As her students reveal themselves in their response to her and the language, we find their observations humorous, their interactions fascinating. And the conflict arises when the struggling and often embarrassed students relate her to the onerous time they have with learning a completely different mode and thought process of communication. Neshat is authentic in her portrayal as Marjan, revealing the inner emotional struggle she has especially with Elham (the feisty, assertive Tala Ashe).
Humor evolves organically from the students’ perceptions, struggles and slippage into their native tongue Farsi in the first weeks of the class. An excellent teacher, Marjan attempts to gradually curb their fear and angst holding their feet to the fire by speaking English. Her skills are effective. We watch these individuals speak halting English. When they rip off sentences quickly (in English), that designates they speak Farsi.
At the outset Neshat’s Marjan reveals equanimity despite the competitive confrontations of Elham (the excellent Tala Ashe), the shy, halting behavior of Goli (the sweet Ava Lalezarzadeh), and the lackluster, removed Roya (the heartfelt Pooya Mohseni). Eventually, it becomes apparent that Omid (the attractive, confident Hadi Tabbal), the only male in the class, whose English is nearly unaccented and spot-on, is the one that Marjan connects with cognitively and perhaps, as Elham suggests, on a more personal level. Neshat and Tabbal effect an intriguing bond that flows with undercurrents between their characters.
We enjoy Marjan’s activities with the class which reinforce recognition of English nouns through games that emphasize speed. She keeps in mind the TOEFL is a timed test. However, eventually, the language begins to wear down the teacher and the students after Neshat’s Marjan encourages them to undertake the most difficult part of learning a language; they must only speak in English.
Thus, they must converse in sentences, and in effect begin to approach thinking as a native English speaker. All of them chafe at this and break into Farsi which Neshat’s Marjan “censures” by noting it on the chalkboard. The only one who doesn’t find this difficult is Tabbal’s Omid.
As Marjan attempts to have each of the students integrate themselves more personally with English, the conflicts explode. We discover Mohseni’s Roya only wants to learn because her son wants his mother to speak to her Canadian granddaughter in her native tongue which is not Farsi. This devastates Roya, who in a show and tell explains the two languages as she hears their differences. When she discusses her son’s email in Farsi and a voice mail he leaves in English, she uplifts the beauty of Farsi. She emphasizes the softness of her son’s intent in Farsi. Then she notes in his English voice mail, his speech. The sounds he makes are harsh, removed, cold. She asks the class, “Who is mom? I am Maman.” There, in one word the history of Persia is eradicated. The audience was completely silent during Mohseni’s plaintive discussion of loss; her son and granddaughter disappearing her culture before her eyes. This powerful moment is beautifully rendered by Mohseni and insightfully directed by Knud Adams.
The distinction Toossi suggests is profound and thought-provoking. Roya’s relationship to her son has been separated by the nature of the language and we see her heart is broken because of it. As he lives in Canada over the years, the separation will become impossible. The geographical difference matters little. It is his adoption of this new way of being in English. Even if she stays with him in Canada, she will be forced to learn this harsh, cold speech and ways of thinking to attempt to form a relationship with her granddaughter. But a culture, a way of being, a way of life and history has been disintegrated in the next generation. Mohseni’s Roya defines this as a death. As a result of her incredible performance, we believe and buy into Roya’s grief. Her granddaughter will never know the softness and poetic beauty of Farsi, the language of poets, of Omar Khayyam.
When Marjan has all of her students speak their English names, Roya rebels. It is her last stand. She never returns to class. We anticipate that the cost is too great for her to be reborn into a culture that reshapes her identity with an ugly name and being. As Roya leaves the class, Marjan’s response is invisible, absent. When a student asks what happened to Roya, Marjan dismisses the question. We are left to think that Roya failed to even desire to evolve, and Marjan failed Roya. Marjan, normally empathetic, moves on to “save” the others. However, Neshat’s Marjan too swiftly dismisses Roya. The undercurrent of her own feelings screams out with her silent dismissal, as harsh as the sounds of English to Roya’s intellect.
Toossi makes an important choice for our understanding of the complicated Marjan who puzzles us. Why didn’t she use Roya’s difficulty as a teachable moment? Why didn’t she encourage the others or explore for a few minutes a path to enhance their connection with her? We don’t know if she deeply empathizes and understands Roya’s rebellion or if she is annoyed she failed her. The question Toosi raises about Marjan’s character, she never answers because it is a developing characterization steeped in a confluence of emotions and feelings. Clearly Neshat’s Marjan is thrown by this event. Her becoming an English teacher has impacted her. There is gain, and there is loss and there is the price she pays for the trade-off.
Pooya Mohseni’s portrait of Roya is eloquently delivered, touching and emotionally driven. In every line we feel Roya’s pain in having to deal with this untenable situation. Mohseni knocks it out of the ballpark. Through her character most of all, we understand what it means to be a native speaker. We empathize with the loss of dignity, honor and person-hood Roya feels being forced into speaking English my Neshat’s Marjan. We get how her inability to communicate and make herself understood in the beauty of Farsi is anathema. Of course, she feels English is like putting on a cloak of stupidity, ugliness, ungainliness. If her granddaughter never learns Farsi (something Omid suggests her son should have his daughter do), she will never know who her grandmother really is. Roya’s loss, historical, cultural, personal is beyond calculation.
Toossi’s strongest moments present themes of loss of the old identity, yet the incomplete adoption in fluid grace with a new one. For each of the characters, we empathize that it is like being birthed again, torn from one’s natural lush habitat and plopped down in a desert left to die of thirst every moment, as they yearn to feel the cool balm of speaking in one’s mother tongue. English shines when the pronounced conflicts increase.
For example, Elham’s ambitious nature and brilliance force her to try to be the best in the class to achieve a high grade on the TOEFL in her pursuit to be a doctor. Ashe nails Elham’s frustration in achieving a high score on the MCAT and fearing a low score on the TOEFL. The TOEFL is a mountainous hurdle, so she hates English and by extension is oppressed by Neshat’s Marjan. Nevertheless, her competitive nature compels Elham to provoke Marjan in the stress and strain of being challenged. Speaking Farsi, yearning to be close, she manipulatively accuses Marjan of disliking her.
Ashe’s exceptional portrayal is revealed in her character’s suppressed anger. Thus, Elham proclaims to Ava Lalezarzadeh’s Goli that Marjan “loves” Omid. The sweet, shy Goli avers. But Elham insisits that because Marjan invites Omid to watch English films with her there is a “bond.” Indeed, in their moments together the Tabbal’s attractive Omid is suggestive and in his scenes with Neshat’s Marjan there is a connection. However, it is not as Ashe suggests; it is based in understanding English fluidly. Indeed, Marjan invites Elham and Goli, but they don’t want to spend the time with Marjan and Omid watching films like Room With a View. These conflicts are vital to the play’s forward movement. Perhaps they might have been established earlier.
Toossi’s uses her characterizations to organically develop her themes. These strengthen our engagement and pull at our empathetic heart strings. Thus, when Omid’s mystery is revealed or when Elham comes back to discuss how she performed on the TOEFL, we identify. Most of all Toossi has accomplished a milestone by indicating the importance for native speakers to stand in the shoes of immigrants who are even attempting to learn English. To learn a different language is a courageous, heroic feat, as Toossi suggests. It is a willingness to expand to another identity, another thought process. Ultimately, the nature of the language, its formation and structure changes the individual emotionally, mentally, indeed psychologically. This must not be underestimated. All of the actors’ portrayals vitally heighten Toossi’s themes and bring us closer to the importance of empathy. Ashe’s development of her character Elham is exceptional and we thrill for Elham as she shocks us with her success which was in her all along.
Toossi also reveals why there are those who don’t wish to learn English, even though they’ve lived in an English speaking country for years. These individuals remain in their own communities, never learn the language and never venture out to immerse themselves in new experiences. The risk of embarrassment is too great. They will not live in humiliation as their new persona, feel like an idiot and be quiet and uncommunicative, not understanding the too rapid speech bursts around them.
Finally, Toossi implies that by leaving behind the old self and adopting a new one, the individual wipes out the favored history of their beloved country, identity, relationships, being. Of course, if there is no direct imperative for business or education, they will not even try. Additionally, in the United States, their accent will be so thick it will be tantamount to a “war crime,” especially in the rural South and West as Ashe’s Elham ironically and humorously suggests.
This is one of the great lines in Toossi’s superb play. Understandably, non-native speakers do not wish to brave the looks of disgust, horror and puzzlement on the faces of native English speakers when they try to ask, “When will the waiting room open?” (Ws without an accent are particularly hard for non-native English speakers). Toossi covers a great deal of ground in her touching play which ends on a high note. We finally hear the actors speak in Farsi.
The production has ended. A few points about when I saw it the last day of its extended run.
Some of the actors couldn’t be heard, even by those sitting in the second row. Friends sitting there told me they barely heard certain thin-voiced actors. Also, sitting up close they became annoyed because the chairs blocked their view at times and they had to lean to the left or right. I was in row F and I thought it was just me when I missed some of the dialogue. I wasn’t the only one.
Problematic was the set construction, a lovely box set classroom which kept in the sound and echoed it. A wonderful idea for the set shouldn’t obstruct the audience’s enjoyment of the production with occluded sight lines and muffled sound. The idea of the classroom, revolving on a turntable platform is symbolic. But unless the audience hears each line of the actors and sees all areas of the stage without obstruction, the symbolism is impaired. This is too wonderful a work for it not to be technically spot-on.
Look for the marvelous Toossi’s work. She is a treasure and English is a vibrant, important and current play that begs to be performed again.
How do we tell if our indignation for another’s plight isn’t our own misdirected rage that we ignore at our own peril? How is the healing process from childhood traumas that manifests through addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex and “acting out” initiated? Do those rehabilitating themselves recognize when the process evolves into wellness? How do such individuals recognize the journey to healing? Do they understand all that the arduous process entails before they attempt it? Or do they just move head on and try to change before they are ready because the culture and their anti-social behaviors demand it?
Atlantic Theater Company’s Blue Ridge written by Abby Rosebrock and directed by Taibi Magar raises these questions and many more. The play is superb, but does fall a bit short on one element, despite the fine performances by the ensemble and the excellent production values. The weakness evidences in Rosebrock’s sometimes confounding redirection of focus in examining the protagonist Alison (a nuanced, and layered performance by Marin Ireland whose accent is, at times, ill-executed because she quickly glosses over important, profound lines). Nevertheless, Rosebrock’s work is exceptional in the service of revealing themes which initiate organically from her characters and their interactions with each other, as they rehab in a group home setting.
Currently at the Linda Gross Theater, Blue Ridge takes place at a religious rehabilitation retreat in the gorgeous mountains of western North Carolina (Appalachia). Everpresent are the fundamentalist tenets of Christianity which the characters attempt to espouse and practice. There, at St. John’s Service House, the individuals who have been interviewed and accepted for placement, seek God’s love, forgiveness, joy and peace, reinforced by Sunday church, Wednesday Bible Study, meditation, outside jobs at a pool store and therapeutic group conversation.
However, the process of moving toward wellness is not as easy as it may appear with prayers and Bible work. There must be a complete revolution of one’s soul, a very tricky circumstance indeed; for what is the soul? What is sin? What is the devil? And how do Christian teachings answer psychological traumas? As a key theme which Rosebrock brilliantly reveals, dealing with trauma involves more intricate and complex understanding on a personal level for those who experienced trauma. This involves a life-long process and everyone who undergoes it won’t find any marked yellow brick road at the end of the rainbow. But a good first step is remembering and confronting the trauma alone and/or with expert guidance and love.
The characters, some with overseeing functions like Hern (the pastor played by Chris Stack) and Grace (social worker portrayed by Nicole Lewis) help others, and with empathy and service, seek to rehabilitate themselves. Those, like Alison (Marin Ireland) Wade (Kyle Beltran) and Cole (Peter Mark Kendall), who have been accepted into the program, hope to correct problems which have manifested in self-destructive behaviors. If such behaviors continue, the individuals will be sent to restrictive settings (jail or psychiatric lock up), if they do not improve and heal. Other characters like Cherie (Kristolyn Lloyd), voluntarily enroll in the program. Cherie knows her own soul’s weaknesses related to her family’s and her own alcoholism. Though she is self-aware, she is blind to her other weaknesses and these set her on a course which may lead to relapse if not confronted.
Rosebrock introduces us to the principals in the first act which largely is humorous exposition to set up the dramatic developments and the climax of the second act. The characters are representational, some with individual problems that run deep but whose cause remains unknown. Their outward issues range from alcohol and drug addictions to anger management issues identified euphemistically as “intermittent explosive disorder.”
Central to the characters’ improvement and social reconstitution is the Wednesday Bible Study where we first meet the others and Alison, a teacher who lost her way and her job because of anger management issues. Alison chose to go to rehab rather than jail for destroying her principal’s car; ironically, he also was the man she “loved.” Marin Ireland’s portrayal reveals Alison’s fierce, hyperbolic and frenetic personality which masks the underlying wounds which Rosebrock intimates but doesn’t clarify by the conclusion of the play.
A word about the character of Alison, who is the linchpin of Rosebrock’s work. One wonders if the play’s dynamism might have been strengthened if Rosebrock had more clearly and with dramatic and active plot points heightened the true issues that fomented Alison’s life-long devastation. At the beginning of Act One, to introduce herself, Alison glibly races through the lines of a song “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood which parallels her behavior that landed her in rehab. We understand that she refers to herself when she quotes: “by this point all the accumulated pain an’ hopelessness, an’ annihilatin degradation, uh’bein a woman in this sexual economy’ve juss… racked the speaker’s brain and body, like a cancer.”
However, we remain unenlightened about the how and the what, even until the end of the play when Wade (Kyle Beltran) confronts her with these lines. Rosebrock never delineates the specifics of Alison’s annihilation and this is key to feeling empathy for her. Though Ireland does a yeowoman’s job in getting us to Alison’s heightened emotional state, our identification with her is muted and unsatisfactory. Perhaps, this is because we do not understand why she hurts so on an individual level. It is not enough to call in the cultural memes as her revelation. The facts and specifics matter; they resonate. But what are they? Thus the fullness and the power of Alison’s emotional state and whether or not she has achieved self-realization to move on to the healing process is opaque. We are not even “seeing through a glass darkly” where she is concerned.
The play turns on Alison’s integration into the program and her recovery. The irony is that she does the work in achieving her external goals and is reinstated as a teacher. However, she doesn’t begin to expurgate the underlying morass of pain in her soul while she is immersed in her sessions and interactions with Wade, Cherie, Hern, Cole, Grace. Indeed, because her self-realizations remain superficial, she becomes the catalyst that exacerbates conflicts and escalates issues for Cherie, Hern, Cole and Grace. As Cherie suggests, Alison blows up a set of circumstances via her own projections. As a result, everything changes for the characters.
Furthermore, Alison doesn’t understand how to get around the humiliation of the negative impact she has afterward. Ironically, though “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” by the end of the play, we see though there are apologies, there is no closure, no forgiveness, no resolution. Each of the individuals is forced to work by himself/herself as the “family” goes its own way in separate directions.
The only one who attempts to deal with himself in an authentic way is Wade. He tries to “make amends” for his not dealing with Alison on a deeper level than he he should have. At the conclusion Wade’s conversation with her is a trigger. However, we do not understand the specifics of the how or why. The rationale appears that she went through something in childhood. So did we all. We are ready to empathize, but are never quite given the chance, a fissure in the play’s development and characterization of Alison.
Rosebrock chooses to develop the play so that the conclusion becomes Alison’s flashpoint of experiencing the pain of her buried, bleeding wounds. The play ends with her emotional breakdown as she appears to allow herself to feel on a deeper level.
This is a risky choice in developing the play.The outcome remains unsatisfying and uncertain. The character Alison, whom we’ve come to accept and appreciate, is a cipher and a conundrum to herself and us. Though Alison has achieved the beginnings of a deep emotional release, Rosebrock sets her spinning in limbo. Any epiphany she might experience is mitigated by questions and doubt. We do not know where her emotional release will take her, nor what specifically it is connected to.
If we did know more about what is “driving her to hydroplane” (a wonderful symbol of her dangerous emotional state), we might have greater empathy. And indeed, if she achieved the makings of an epiphany, we would understand her. The irony is that her emotions belie victimization but we do not understand. Might that have been dramatically revealed to deepen her characterization?
Magar’s direction aptly shepherds the cast as they portray how each of the characters attempts to make their way through their own personal trials that emerge after Alison blows apart the peaceful interactions of the “family” in the second act. These conflict scenes engage us. In the confrontation scene between Alison and Cherie toward the end of the second act, both Lloyd and Ireland hit their target. Their authenticity reveals the extent of Alison’s self-absorption and her misery which spills out onto everyone in the group, especially harming Cherie. This scene is one of the strongest in the play. There are others that work equally well because of fine ensemble work, direction and staging.
Kudos to Adam Rigg (Scenic Designer), Sarah Laux (Costume Designer) Amith Chandrashaker (Lighting Designer) and Mikaal Sulaiman (Sound Designer & Additional Composition) for adhering to themes and establishing the tenor and atmosphere of the play. (The final projection is revelatory and symbolic.)
A word of caution. For some actors, the North Carolinian accents were a distraction that occluded rather than clarified. Whether this was because of character portrayal or under-projection is moot. However, because Kyle Beltran, Kristolyn Lloyd, Peter Mark Kendall (to a lesser extent Chris Stack) didn’t overrun their lines and their projection was a sounding bell, their accents sounded unforced.
The play is a worthy must-see for the performances (despite a few rough patches with accents) and for Rosebrock’s metaphoric writing, humor and intriguing thematic questions. Blue Ridge runs with one intermission at the Linda Gross Theater on 336 20th Street between 7th and 8th until 26 January. For tickets go to the website.