Sunday, June 3, 2018

Review: Three Steps Beyond

By Ed Malin

At the Brick, Theater Accident is presenting The Hollow, an evening of three short works written and directed by Matthew Freeman. Freeman and the versatile cast create captivating stories out of words, aiming to break through to places where only the imagination can go.  This is very much a coming together of skilled theater veterans, many of whom you may know from the New York Innovative Theatre Awards.
The first play is called In the great expanse of space there is nothing to see but More More More.  Seven women wearing white are seated onstage.  These actresses are: Susan Ferrara/Maggie Cino, Rohana Kenin, Dee Beasnael, Christy Escobar, Sarah K. Lippmann, Tammi Clayton and Stacey Weckstein. They talk in tantalizing phrases—sometimes completing each other’s syncopated sentences—about cancer. “The hollow, the hush” is repeated at times throughout, as are pairs of opposites, a story about keeping a urine sample in the refrigerator, and oblique references to body parts such as the “left fallopian testicle”.  The women talk about space flight and count extended lists of their blessings.   Watching this, I got a feeling of overwhelming hope.  Whether we are looking at a group of stars, or white blood cells, or even cancer cells, there is thorough exploration of all of the stages of grief and loss.  Things that real people try aggressively not to talk about all spill out here.  There is a feeling of disorientation which would accompany chemotherapy.  There is a call to abandon all hope, but instead, humor and optimism rise to the surface.  The evening is off to a fine start.
photo by Jody Christopherson
The second play is a hand emerges from the water.  David DelGrosso and Matthew Trumbull, both wearing snazzy blue suits, sit at separate tables not facing each other.  They both hold cell phones, and converse aloud together.  Something tragic has happened, something the title can only attempt to describe.  The two men talk about another person who used to connect them, yet words fail, as they have presumably failed this other person.  This play succeeds in showing how much more of life there is beyond the stories we tell.
The third play is The Language.  Moira Stone and Matthew Trumbull star in this piece, which was originally commissioned by NYU for “The Language of the Birds: Occult and Art”, a beautiful exhibition curated by Freeman’s wife, Pam Grossman, a scholar of magical practice and history.  Stone and Trumbull sit in elegant armchairs.  He is fully dressed.  She is barefoot.  Who are they?  Probably relatives, since they trade bits of a story about “your uncle’s attic”.  He holds a large, storybook-looking book.  The story is a feat of amazingness.  Moira Stone has found the motivation to go to the limits of language and beyond.  She talks about going into the uncle’s attic, and asks aloud what did I find there?  A whole lifetime of goals and exceeded expectations follow.  “The taller you get, the thinner you get.”  There are some people who are so connected, they can still understand supernatural things and can still communicate despite all the efforts of society to keep them apart; “…like the Tower of Babel missed a few.”  Indeed, she states “We were born knowing the language, but it was corrected like left-handedness and lisps.”  Yet, she has many adventures including a “library in Upstate New Mexico” and “the four winds of Hecate”.   It’s engrossing and off-kilter and delicious and builds to point where Stone freezes.  Trumbull solicitously takes her pulse, and helps make her comfortable.  In old stories, this is where someone might have had a “fit of apoplexy”.  Here, it may just be the end of the spiritual inspiration.   As I seem to keep saying about this evening, this was a wonderful thing to witness.
Theater Accident has again dared to do something awesome.  You will probably be awestruck after this show.  There is some sharp costuming courtesy of Melanie Hawks, intense music from Nat Hawks, and essential lighting of inner and outer space by Michael Gardner.  Otherwise, we are looking at the power of good writing and nimble acting by a knockout ensemble.