Writer: Alex Borinsky
Director: Augustus Heagerty
Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers
Trudging up the stairs to the fourth-floor walkup space of the ironically named Access Theater, one hopes the trek will be rewarded with a transcendent piece of theatre. i am a slow tide performance and media collection’s production of Alex Borinsky’s Brief Chronicle, Books 6-8 has intrigue and high concept aplenty, with a script lauded as one of the next big things in non-traditional, semi-post-dramatic performance. Navigating this play is an exercise in learning to be comfortable with discomfort, like relaxing one’s eyes to view those 3-D image books that were popular in the early nineties. It is not always pleasant and not everyone can do it, but those who can consistently seem to enjoy what they gain from the experience.
Director Augustus Heagerty keeps the lyrical, expressionistic script moving at an energized but never rushed pace, with the entirety of the play clocking in at just over sixty minutes. No time is wasted, no moments are overly indulgent. Likewise, everything is given its proper due; poignancy lands and the important bits stand out as such. The entire play feels a bit like a fever dream, as though everyone is themselves but somehow not themselves, and are in familiar places that feel unfamiliar. Not quite the verfremdungseffekt of Brecht, this new sense of haunted ennui is less jarring and more like the sensation of vertigo. Everything is slightly offset from itself. And for a ghost story, which this play is billed to be and does in fact involve restless spirits of all sorts, that effect works.
Coupled with this duality of tethered yet ethereal viscera, there is a sensation of hollowness underneath. Not to say the talented cast is not grounded in the not-quite-reality in which their characters live; each performer has a strong connection to their role/s. And perhaps that is the intent. To juxtapose the reality everyone so desperately seeks against a lack of foundational surety. Unfortunately, this can also lead to a feeling of “what did I just see” as one reflects upon the experience of the production. A sense of understanding yet not, a glimmer of recognition surrounded by alienation, a feeling of enjoyment mixed with consternation. In this way, this dreamy rumination of a play on how we create ourselves using the words and perceptions of others strikes a compelling chord.
And perhaps that is what is missing. The thing that is meant to be missed. Is it a commentary on the nature of the play and of humankind that in depending upon elements outside of ourselves for definition that we feel empty despite projecting a particular identity or receiving a certain validation? It is a tricky, monumentally tiny thing – how does a person (or in a meta commentary, the artist) reconcile the depth of the underlying emptiness? Do we fill the void or learn to float over our own personal abyss, paying no mind to the nothingness below? It is in this way that Brief Chronicle, Books 6-8 is challenging to critique. It does not grant the audience the satisfaction that they are conditioned to anticipate from narrative performance. And that feels strange and can easily make a person wonder why they trudged up to the fourth floor of a warm building to spend roughly an hour in aesthetic purgatory… which is perhaps what makes this production important.
This production – nay, this play – certainly is not for everyone and may not resonate with all aesthetics. But it accomplishes cleverly what it sets out to do. It asks without answering how we define ourselves, if the labels really mean anything at all, and how to reconcile the identities we build around others with what does (or does not) lie beneath.
Runs Until 15 June, 2019 | Photo Credit: Maria Baranova