Director: Tara Ahmadinejad
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
Experimental performance group Piehole explores questions of gentrification, stagnation, intergenerational communication, and interpretive dance on skis, with their latest offering Ski End at the New Ohio Theatre. This thoughtful, imaginative work of devised theatre was developed through New Ohio Theatre and IRT’s Archive residency.
The play follows a group of five thirtysomethings from New York who stumble into an abandoned ski shop in a declining resort town. While they explore the space, the door closes behind them, trapping them among the old displays and the rotting trappings of the town’s glory days as a vacation destination. They then embark on a journey of imagination, using the store’s remaining stock to tell stories of the shop’s previous employees. They are interrupted at different points by a realtor looking to sell the space, who is oblivious to their presence, and a group of young locals who are most definitely aware of outsiders invading their territory. As the initial group of five imagines the circumstances that led to the shop’s downfall, they confront the roles of climate change, natural disaster, and online commerce on the economy of the resort town, and the impact of those changes on the next generation of residents.
Ski End is visually striking. Set designer and cast member Alexandra Panzer creates a flood-ravaged retail space in which chunks of the ceiling regularly fall in. Director Tara Ahmadinejad gives us an utterly delightful dance on skis. In fact, the five interlopers who play out the shop’s demise spend much of the first half of the play with skis strapped to their feet. The tight ensemble cast (Toni Ann DeNoble, Kijani-Ali Gaulman, Allison La Platney, Maite Martin, Alexandra Panzer, Emilie Soffe, Nicole Suazo, Ben Vigus, and Jeff Wood) are playful and genuine in their storytelling.
The play’s organization sometimes feels haphazard, though. There are many beautiful, moving, and funny scenes, but they don’t always add up to a cohesive whole. On Piehole’s website, a blog post about the play’s opening after nearly two years of development comments, says, “[A]t times the temptation is just to keep rehearsing—forever.” Ski End occasionally feels like watching a world-building exercise in rehearsal more than something with a clear goal in mind. The world-building is quite entertaining, though. The play feels like it’s on the verge of ending at least three times before it does so. The end itself is satisfying, but the arc to arrive there is rather bumpy.
Ski End is not a show for everyone. It rambles. It’s rough around the edges. There are what would be some glaring plot holes if it were primarily plot-driven. Those who want their theatre polished and their plot crystal-clear will be disappointed. That said, there are moments of tremendous beauty and humanity that make this play well worth seeing for fans of devised work.
Runs until 19 May 2017