Sunday, December 05, 2010

THEATER: Goodbye New York, Goodbye Heart

Photo/Rick Ngoc Ho 

Three years ago, the Production Company premiered a short version of Lally Katz's Goodbye New York, Goodbye Heart, a romantic and quirky look at life after death, in which a depressed Caroline visits -- for her friend's wedding -- the "city" of Myspace New York, which has been recreated by the many people who have committed suicide in the real world. While there, she becomes an avalanche dweller -- obsessed and in love with Thornbury, one of the dead -- and just barely escapes before the whole fantasy world crashes. There's a Charlie Kaufman-esque appeal to the concept (think Eternal Sunshine), and a Sarah Ruhl-ish vibe to the language (similar in weight and tone to Dead Man's Cell Phone), but the last three years haven't served Katz's play well: as a full-length (ninety minute) play, it's too stretched out and consequently dry.

Nicolle Bradford -- who played Caroline in the original production, too -- has grown into the role, and gives plenty of life to her character, approaching the sorrow with equal parts of optimism, stubbornness, and anger. But she's surrounded by avatars, not characters, and these shallow representations keep her from connecting with flesh and blood. People like her ex, Andy (Brian Robert Burns), fly in for a scene, peppering the script with curses, and then vanish, without any growth -- and without any real impact. The actors do a fine job, particularly the comic relief of Sally and Claire (Erin Maya Darke and Danielle Slavick), two would-be-vegan chefs, but their role -- giving Caroline a job -- is far too slight, and they wind up a distraction. Some characters -- like Miss Jacklyn (Polly Lee), the flustered, far-gone leader of Avalanche Dwellers Anonymous -- are too cleanly reduced to a function: in this case, representing Caroline in fifteen years, a cautionary zombie. The result feels artificial, especially when the exposition of the dialogue meets the poetry of Caroline's monologues, and it buries the doomed (and one-sided) "romance" between Caroline and Thornbury (a fascinatingly reserved Ryan King) for too long.

These things stand out, as they must, because Valerie Therese Bart's set is meant to be a drab, expressionistically modern, background. It is everywhere and nowhere, and it keeps the emphasis on the more colorful characters (especially in Carolyn Hoffman's outfits) trying to give this fantasy life. But director Oliver Butler -- who has achieved great magic with his own company, The Debate Society -- seems restrained by this too, too solid set: it reduces movement (on the balconies or cramped apartments, or in Caroline's barred apartment) and creates some unfortunate sight lines (courtesy of the giant poles that are part of HERE's space). It doesn't feel as if Myspace New York is slowly fading or "crashing" all around them: rather, it feels like they've been living in the land of the dead from the start.

One of the themes of Goodbye New York, Goodbye Heart is that although nothing is lost in this digital age, those who believe that wind up losing themselves, for they disassociated from the present, from what's real. The same goes for Katz's play, which, in refusing to lose anything, has cut its own heart out.

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