Monday, February 18, 2008

Review: Imminence

Things do not happen quickly in the play Imminence; tensions build slowly and passively until the moment where pressures are let loose in a shuddering quake. As the play progresses, it charts three generations of a family, through memories and simple moments, slowly illuminating their lives and how they cope with the loss of one of their own. Realizations and understandings steal slowly over the audience as the storytelling moves quietly forward.

The opening moments of the show are crucial for setting the stage. A simple domestic scene is set, with pedantic, everyday talk. But other actors stand at one side of the stage, humming and singing a tender acoustic song composed by Ellen Maddow. The talk at the table and the movements of the actors become part of the music, providing their own unique rhythms and melodies to the music. The care with which each actor performs their role, and the quiet, unassuming emotions with which the music is embued, allowed me to tune my ears to hear much subtler and more potent strains of conversation.

From that moment forward, the dialogue and the actions onstage became surreal, even though they were simple actions in life. Writer-Director Paul Zimet provides a highly minimalist script, understanding that if each moment is simple and highly specific, it can have the power of an entire television epic. The actors perform in such roles with an openness and simplicity that drives such moments home: Will Badgett, as Victor, can turns a scene where he does nothing more than shuffle to the bathroom and back in the middle of the night into a quiet, potent scene. He performs roughly that same scene three times; only the third time, he addresses the audience with a heartbreakingly beautiful monologue.

The technical elements were, for the most part, as minimalist as the show. Carol Mullins' lighting design matches the tone of the show, creating the effect of streetlamps through shutters at night with a poetic precision. The exception which proves the rule of minimalism is the set, two black platforms designed by Nic Ularu, which split in half, and over the course of the play drift further and further away from each other. At times, this set choice didn't seem to be used as powerfully as it could have, but when it was fully utilized--such as for Hilary Easton's choreography, Will Badgett's monologue, or a scene in which Rory (David Brooks) confronts his family from across the divide--the result was simple and powerful.

There were, admittedly, some scenes that were less effective overall, and could have been jettisoned without damaging the experience. But because of the gentle pace and the wonderful gifts which I received, I was not bothered too badly. It is very rare that I form such a deep empathy with the performers onstage, and--as if reciprocating the performer's welcoming spirit--I cannot judge them for a few missteps.

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