This production is pretty unique for Theater J since it’s an original. Associate Artistic Director Shirley Serotsky had the idea to adapt Grossman’s novel, to which he agreed, and playwright-director Derek Goldman wrote the screenplay. Jessica Cohen provided English translation for Grossman’s novels, both inspired, in part, by the death of his son in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict.
The story is meant to take various characters, all parents of deceased children, “out of time” and into a magical realist limbo. The staging also accomplished this for the audience, by seating some members on stage and some cast within the house. I was actually right behind Nanna Ingvarsson, who played the Chronicler’s Wife.
None of these characters had much by way of personal backstory, although we found out bits and pieces about the varied ways in which their children died. Going through the various stages of anger, grief and confusion, many in the group ultimately wandered throughout the theatre, looking for the “there” that might bring them back to their loved ones.
After the performance, various cast and crew came on stage to talk to the lingering audience about their consultations with Grossman, artistic choices, and a special event in conjunction with members of The Parents Circle. Members Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin, amidst travels to the U.S., came to view the play in March.
The play felt rather repetitive and wearying to me, and there certainly wasn’t much room for levity. Occasional lines had sudden, startling impact; I think I agree with actor Joseph Mycoff, who said his favorite one regarded a father mentioning a son who died in August, ergo how could he move on to September? About a more specific tragedy, actress Erika Rose, while standing atop a looking tower, gave a haunting soliloquy to warfare, and the ways that spectators vs aggrieved family members view it.
Because of the minimalist props, some parts of the play didn’t translate as well for me. Near the end, the actors stripped down to veiny body suits near an unseen “wall” between the living and the dead, but it was only during the panel discussion that I came to understand that they were burying themselves in the earth. But other aspects were extremely well done, like the music and the staging; actors had to time their “aimless” steps around the theatre appropriately so that they could make their marks when they had to deliver their lines.
All in all, I would call the play a unique and arresting experience, which strips away traditional storytelling elements to focus on the strong emotions behind loss. The production continues until the 17th; you can buy tickets here.