by Ed Malin · February 8, 2015
Stephanie Willing, Jay Leibowitz, Robert Honeywell, Sarah K. Lippmann | Michael Gardner
There are some plays, such as The Listeners by Matthew Freeman, that you just want to see again. The Brick Theater is still a laboratory of dreams. That said, I didn't see anyone in the audience who wasn't surprised when they walked into the space and saw chairs set up on the outside of the four walls of the set, with slits in the walls through which to view the action taking place in the living room world of the play. Dogs, we hear, are barking outside, while the interior of the quaint, rundown Northeastern bed and breakfast is a family environment.
It’s morning at the garden and guest house, where people come to stay and after a while are no longer “guests” but family. Sistine (Moira Stone) is the cheery caretaker. Her loving brother, Elliot (Robert Honeywell) and his wife, Marion (Sarah K. Lippmann) are there, as are two drifters who arrived last night. Colm (Jay Leibowitz) is a bit haggard, while his companion—but not his wife, as he asserts—Careen (Stephanie Willing) is an ethereal Californian dressed like a friend of Louis XVI. Already the others are interrogating Colm about his arrival. Why is his friend named after a car accident? What is the endless board game with hundreds of rules that they are afraid to stop playing? When their lighter is out of fuel, do they realize they’re smokeless smoking?
The “story” melts away into variations of its own dialogue repeated by different characters. Really interesting sounds are heard, or contemplated; pregnancy is described as leading to a long noise that never stops.
Reading Mark Twain upside down is calming. “It’s the first time I said it, but it’s not the first time I felt it,” we hear as we strain to take in the action.
There may be no world outside anymore. The most mysterious and backpackerish character, Augusta (Heather Cunningham) hints at some apocalypse or food shortage. When a conversation strays to how much Careen prefers Oz books, she is reminded “you preferred them”. Is this what the afterlife looks like?
How important is “story” anyway? The production looks to authors like Samuel Beckett, whose plot summaries could be short (“Malone died?”, “somebody’s in the sandbox?”) but favored beautiful, ambiguous nuances. Some of the dialogue is pleasantly designed to shut down conversation (cf. “So how could you agree with me more than completely?”) It’s a sometimes-silent, chilling, thought-provoking spectacle. And of course there’s one big question: can the performers see the audience?
Director Michael Gardner has made this very special cast work hard and even be different characters at different times. There is a wonderful mask which you should definitely go see the show to experience. Kudos to the set builders (Sidney Erin Johnson, Alexander Belousov, Timothy McCown Reynolds, and Alex Shaw) as you won’t see anything like this outside of a funhouse or the CDC.