by Leta Tremblay · October 18, 2014
Rich Brown, Jessica Ranville, Charise Greene, Nathan Richard Wagner, Sonia Villani | Alan Roche
During the opening number of Blessed Unrest’s Lying, the ensemble of five dance on a raised platform only a few feet below the ceiling. Their movements are practiced and yet also hold a sense of abandon and unpredictability. It is immediately evident that this piece of theater will be both beautiful and dangerous.
Adapted by Blessed Unrest Managing Director Matt Opatrny from the “metaphorical memoir” by Lauren Slater, Lying recounts Lauren’s childhood and young adult experiences with epilepsy. Or does it? Maybe it’s really the story of Jessica Ranville as a performer playing Lauren. Or maybe it is a play about Lauren and she doesn’t really have epilepsy. What is the truth? What could be the truth? How does the truth change?
Throughout the evening, Ranville breaks out of character to ask these questions directly to the audience or to admit that she hasn’t been entirely honest up to this point. She beckons us to “come closer” and dig deeper to find the truth. Despite her admission to lying, I never once question Ranville’s performance as a young woman struggling for control over her body, her family, and her life. Her portrayal is innocent, vulnerable, daring, complex, rash, and fearless.
All of the actors, in fact, are courageous on stage. From a larger than life mother to a band of nuns, teenage girls, and members of an AA support group, Charise Greene, Nathan Richard Wagner, Sonia Villani, and Rich Brown play a host of characters with great veracity. Brown particularly transforms as Christopher, Lauren’s teacher and lover, giving this flawed character great humanity.
Blessed Unrest Artistic Director Jessica Burr does a fantastic job directing and choreographing this ensemble and creating a space for dynamic and unapologetic story telling with all of the tools at her disposal. She invites the audience to experience a world that encompasses all of the senses. Including smell. As Lauren describes her first encounters with epilepsy, she remembers the scent of jasmine and something burning. As she speaks, these smells cascade into the room with the help of a scented spray, lit match, and mounted fan.
Neal Wilkinson supports this theatrical magic beautifully with his scenic design. The raised stage is painted with a white tree running down the center as its branches climb the back wall. Without giving away too much, I will say that this set is a brilliant metaphor for what happens to Lauren as her experiences and quest for self begin splitting her apart…
I have a confession to make. I saw an excerpt of Lying at the New York Innovative Theatre Awards last month (where Blessed Unrest received the 2014 Caffe Cino Fellowship Award) and I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the vibrancy, joyfulness, and generosity of this company and I knew that I had to see the full production. It beckoned me to “come closer” and did not disappoint.
On the program cover, there is a line that appears under Blessed Unrest’s name: “theatre for the adventurous”. After seeing their work, this sounds like a call to arms not only to the artists that they collaborate with but also for the audiences that they hope to attract. “Blessed Unrest uses the safe structure of training, rehearsal and performance to create an environment where dangerous things can happen.”