Saturday, April 9, 2016

Review: Walking with a Ghost

Saying goodbye is never easy. Sometimes you don't get the closure you desired so the past continues to haunt. Presented by The Assembly, Kate Benson and Emily Louise Perkins’ haunting I Will Look Forward to This Later, a family, and some outliers, mourn the loss of their beloved patriarch while maintaining any sense of self.
With a Kabuki backbone, I Will Look Forward to This Later is more than a grief play. It's a study of maintaining and finding connections after loss. Written by Kate Benson and Emily Louise Perkins, the play follows the Holloway family after infamous writer Wyatt passes away. How this loss affects each individual is the meat of this play. Widow Betsy goes on a rampage of revenge against his mistress Miranda.  Older son Samuel wallows in a litany of sorrow. And younger son Robert engages in an intimate affair with Wyatt's former colleague and occasional companion Agatha. As each goes on their way, Wyatt haunts them, getting them to come to terms with the new reality. What's interesting about the family Benson and Perkins have crafted is this is a family that lets things be by avoiding questions. To us, some revelations are shocking. To them, there's a sense of ambivalence. And it comes across as odd. There are no questions asked when Betsy discovers her son is sleeping with the much older Agatha. Samuel and Robert don't really broach the fact that Miranda is basically an indentured servant to Betsy. It calls attention to just exactly who these people are. And frankly, they are hard to care for. Their sense of entitlement is bothersome. But no matter how you fell about this family, they are family nonetheless. What these people care more about than each other is legacy. How will they be remembered familiarly and broadly. Each character has a tie to the arts, whether it be as a writer, sculptor, or artist, they search for a way to create their master opus. Plot and character aside, the dialogue that Benson and Perkins bring is sharp and intentional. Even when it reaches moments of poetry, it’s accessible.
photo by Nick Benacerraf
I Will Look Forward to This Later is an ensemble piece that required cohesiveness. And this was a cohesive bunch. But due to the nature of the characters’ intentions, some performances were grating. Emily Louise Perkins took on Miranda as well as part of the text. Her Miranda was a bit whiney and feeble. There was an interesting evil queen vs princess dynamic between Miranda and Linda Marie Larson’s Betsy, but it’s never a good sign when you want the bad guy to triumph. Larson’s Betsy was firmly grounded, bringing the strongest performance of the bunch. Betsy plays into a world of fa├žade yet Larson gave her a tinge of humility. James Himelsbach had possibly the hardest role of the show. Finding a way to balance truth with the supernatural is not easy. Yet Himelsbach sprinkled in the humor and lightness that this production needed. Had Himelsbach jovial aura been more haunting, I Will Look Forward to This Later easily could have been gravely too heavy.
As noted, Kabuki influences were present but also domineered elements of the storytelling. The way director Jess Chayes introduced them were not subtle. You have to wonder what could have been had they been removed from the final product. Certainly some theatricality would be lost but the moments of movement hindered the flow of the show. That being said Chayes should be regarded greatly for her impeccable staging. Production designer Nick Benacerraf threw challenge after challenge at Chayes and she knocked them out of the park. While the smell of plywood pervaded the air of The New Ohio, the world of wood brought opportunity. There was a consistency when it came to, what should be called, the crates of wonder. At the start, the stage is filled with crates. And as each locale is introduced, the crates would reveal everything from a workroom coffee station to the tools for molding. But the most dynamic feat was the fabulous casket turned bar. Thanks to the addition of the stunning lights by Christina Watanabe, the images that were cast were magical. As a whole, Watanabe’s design was strong. She relied on colors that melted into one another. As mentioned in the program note, the production’s design featured the “hanamichi.” It is a platform that goes into the audience used in Kabuki theater that allows for grand entrances and exits. The intent was interesting but the payoff was minimal. Unless you were right next to the runway, the dramatic was missed and lost the effect.
I Will Look Forward to This Later is a fascinating examination on art-making and legacy. The Assembly offered something potentially worthwhile but if you lack empathy for the characters, you’re likely to feel like them; ambivalent.