New YorkPhysical Theatre

This is Why We Live – La MaMa, New York City

Adaptors: Open Heart Surgery Theatre

Based on the poems of: Wislawa Szymborska

Director: Coleen MacPherson 

Reviewer: Maggie McMuffin

“I have to guess on the spot just what this play is about.”

One would think with a line like this set toward the beginning that it would be hard to follow This is Why We Live. After all, it is a devised work based on the poems of Wislawa Szymborska, recited in English, French, and Polish as well as being told explored and presented through contemporary movement, clowning, and the cello. It is highly abstract, to say the least, even getting extra experimental credit for appearing in The Downstairs of La Mama. What might have been a pretentious piece showcasing the company’s love of poetry and physical theatre is instead a mostly cohesive throughline exploring what it means to connect to the world around us during our short lives.

While the first minutes use a poem that leans into theatre as a metaphor for life, the work goes beyond that to ask us what in life is worth looking at? Sometimes it is the deep fears we carry through life, the existential dread that humanity may not be redeemable after the atrocities we have committed against one another. Other times it is an onion.

Really. There is a four minute segment about how amazing onions are that was imbued with such honest joy that it made the slow slide into conversations of war, death, and famine feel remarkable rather than edgy. As the play went on, the line between tragedy and comedy blurred even more, exploring the nuances of life.

The piece does this multiple times, utilizing minimal lighting and set design to frame the movement of Alaine Hutton and Elodie Monteau who perform solo and together at various points (with cellist Dobrochna Zubek often joining in from atop her own personal mountain). The props are also few and far between, some of them literally out of reach. Several of the ones the players are able to play with transform into new roles as easily as Hutton and Monteau do: a rose becomes a love letter, a guiltily eaten cake becomes a grave. In the end we are left with a fading lightbulb and the astonishment that any of this could exist at all.

The production is not perfect (there is an explicit reference to 9/11 which undercuts the themes of universality and the use of shadows on the side walls could be utilized more) but those small things which seemed imperfect merely added to the wonder of the final product. Though bad things happen, they are not all we have to dwell on. There is always something else to explore if only we take the time to look at it. And honestly, at only 70 minutes long, there’s no excuse not to take the time to see this. 

Runs Until 29th September 2019 | Photo Credit: Jonathan Slaff

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Honest, Exploratory, Poignant

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The American team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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