DramaFeaturedNew YorkOff-BroadwayReview

Sheila – The A.R.T./New York Theatres, New York

Writer: The Associates

Director: Jamal Abdunnasir

Reviewer: Maridee Slater

Sheila. Sheila. Sheila. Who – or what – is Sheila?

In the event of live performance, there’s a divine chance to bend space and time in collective and intoxicating agreement. Sheila, a new devised play by The Associates, is a concisely drawn 75-minute window into a three-year process. The ensemble clearly shares a resonant vocabulary, but the central question or driving force seems to have been muddied along the way. One is left with more questions than answers, and an undeniable urge to fill in the blanks with personal reasoning. Perhaps this is exactly the point.

The opening is spearheaded by Lauren LaRocca, a radically grounded and present performer who manages to pull the room, nay, the entirety of New York into a single fixed point. LaRocca invites us to experience the architecture of the space anew. Indeed, the story can be distilled into her gestures in these first moments out of the gate. Discourse with a lamp becomes the ultimate metaphor for the story’s whole. But what is that story? 

Could it be a conversational engagement around the nature of discipline and why we live? Perhaps.

The tone is further clarified in the first joust of dialogue, darting through the air with a clip reminiscent of Wendy MacLeod’s The House Of Yes. There’s urgency to the exchange, as though another presence might be encroaching on the space. Like the ancient Greeks or horror, what isn’t on stage is just as much a character as what is.

Sheila is billed as a show about “two women, pitted against the world,” but it feels like two women pitted against each other by the world. Is this a result of or response to being a woman in society? Are these women products of their environment? Byproducts of their reasoning? Why does this piece take place in 1987?

Peregrine Teng Heard is a superb complement to LaRocca. These women have a nuanced sense of craft. The world is a subtle experiential concert of design. The staging is smart and clean, leaning into focused specificity and a sophisticated conversation with kinesthetic response. This show is worth a conversation with The Associates. The work is rigorous, and it would be a delight to see even more risk; they certainly have the chops for it.

Runs until 27 January 2018 | Image: Russ Rowland

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