Sunday, June 26, 2022

Margin Notes: Don't Look Back

Masha King, Lina Silver, Cynthia Bastidas, and Jeff Rubino
as Annie, Molly, Edith, and Lot. Photo by Beowulf Sheehan.
Seen on: Thursday, 6/23/22.
My grade: B+

Plot and Background
Voyage Theater Company presents the world premiere of Adam Kraar's adaptation of the Genesis story of Lot's wife, Edith, and their family's flight from Sodom's destruction. Voyage Theater is dedicated to presenting works of diverse cultures and disciplines.

What I Knew Beforehand
Vaguely I knew about Sodom, Gomorrah, and the pillar of salt.


Play: As the audience enters the space, two gloved individuals dressed all in black are carefully tending to a vast, rumpled grey sheet spread across the playing space within the arena seating. They are not smoothing out the wrinkles but rather carefully defining them, crafting each ridge, each tiny mountain range of fabric. Occasionally they pause to look up at the night sky (as projected on the scrim overhead) or to gaze into an unseen horizon. The quiet care these two Shadows take with the space, coupled with the sound of Aviva Leong's Hebrew recitation, creates a meditative sense of a prepared space. When a shock of harsh side lighting blasts the space for the play's proper beginning, it transforms all to a desert plain, a lifeless arid wasteland that must be traversed by Edith, Lot, and their teen daughters Annie and Molly before the next sunrise. What follows is ninety minutes of a family trying not to fragment as they leave everything they know behind, all on Lot's faith that the two who warned him to leave were angels, and that this is their only chance to escape God's wrath upon the city of Sodom.

Playwright Adam Kraar has a facility with language, dropping evocative poetry like cool sips of water into the mouths of his characters: Lot, who says of his family, "in their faces, in their laughter, when they sleep, there is something holy"; Edith, who notices as they climb the mountain that "the stars up here don't twinkle"; Molly, who sees pomegranate seeds even in the bashed-through brains of an unnamed man; Annie, whose second sight tells of how he died, and of the deaths to come, warning that "something alive is burning." These lyrical moments are gifts that help lift the play out of some of its repetitive bickering, as Lot and Edith seem to have the same fight over and over without resolution. And then, perhaps that lack of resolution is the playwright's point. A story from the Hebrew Bible, like the Ancient Greek tragedies, is partially couched in the assumption that a majority of the audience knows how this story will end. At the last, Edith will look back. At the last, Edith will see the destruction (or, in some interpretations, including this one, she will see the Eye of God) and will turn to a pillar of salt. "I was bad, I know," Edith concludes, "but I was also good."

(small side note about the writing: this story is from the Hebrew Bible and yet sometimes the play's language has a more Christian understanding of worship than Jewish. This rankled me partly because I am tired of media discussion of "Old Testament" stories in a direct erasure of the Jewish religion. Lot and Edith are Jews. This is a Jewish story. Jews do not kneel upon the ground to pray.)

Cast: As they keep saying on my podcasts lately, "No notes." The cast is terrific, especially Cynthia Bastidas as the exhausted but practical Edith, still fighting to maintain her own autonomy and sensuality even as she struggles to hold her family together. Lina Silver brings a sweetness to the younger daughter Molly, mixed with her own flashes of insight and rebellion. Masha King's Annie is a spitfire who at the end shows how much she learned from her mother, seeing the rationality of her choices while also grieving the consequences. Jeff Rubino as Lot has a challenge, in that Lot is in many ways both the driving force for the move but also the antagonist to his family members' individual wants and needs. He fights for his character's humanity but it's an uphill battle. I would also like to pay special note to the two Shadows, as portrayed by Kathleen Salazar and Nick Westemeyer, who do so much in the pre-show to establish mood and sense of place, then continue their quiet work through the transitions of scenes. It would be an entirely different show without them.

Design: Y'all know I love when designers are clearly working in concert with each other to create one unified experience, and that's happening in spades here. Director Wayne Maugans guides not only the performers but also the designers with one vision. He makes good use of the arena space, never neglecting the four sides of the audience, and finding new ways to physically activate the family's trek. Tuânminh A Đỗ's evocative projections across set designer David Esler's night sky scrim marry well with Fan Zhang's sound design to increase the tension as the destruction looms closer and closer, such that we can see an ethereal light lurking at the edges, throbbing with the blasting wind. The lone element not quite in concert with the others here is Paul Bartlett's lighting design, which though at times can be very effective (Edith's transformative moment in particular), but too often, especially in the first third, leaves the performers' faces in relative darkness. I'm a particular fan of Peri Grabin Leong's meticulously detailed costume design work here: while Lot looks like he came straight out of a 19th century shtetl, Edith and the daughters are from a more contemporary, yet still somewhat ambiguous time period. This family is from neither now nor then, but held in some in-between space, much as they are in the in-between of Sodom and their new home in Zoar. The parents are both garbed in earth tones, and their children bear not only those colors but also hopeful shades of blue, a promise of an oasis in the desert. As the story progresses the characters lose layer after layer of clothing, reflecting not just the necessary response to the overheating from their escape, but also their barriers falling down as silenced truths are finally spoken.


Running: Now playing at HERE Mainstage (Voyage Theater Company) - Opening: June 10, 2022. Closing: June 30, 2022.
Category: play
Length: 1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: Adam Kraar
Director: Wayne Maugans
Designers:  Sarah Good (Assistant Director), David Esler (Set), Peri Grabin Leong (Costume), Paul Bartlett (Lighting), Fan Zhang (Sound), Tuânminh A Đỗ (Projections).
Cast: Cynthia Bastidas, Masha King, Jeff Rubino, Lina Silver, Kathleen Salazar, Nick Westemeyer.

Lina Silver, Cynthia Bastidas, Masha King, and Jeff Rubino as Molly, Edith,
Annie, and Lot. Photo by Beowulf Sheehan.

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