TRUTH IN LIES
“I exaggerate,” states Lauren (Jessica Ranville) at the beginning of Lying, which gets a delightful staging by Jessica Burr and her company Blessed Unrest at the Interart Theatre. Matt Opatrny’s exciting and intelligent adaptation of Lauren Slater’s Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir follows Lauren from age ten into her twenties. She recounts her epilepsy; falling out of a cherry tree that grew outside her window; and her meek, beaten-down Father (Rich Brown) and pretentious, domineering, and incessantly critical Mother (played simultaneously by Nathan Richard Wagner, Sonia Villani, and Charise Greene as a sort of three-headed hydra).
Then Lauren admits that often she makes stuff up. There was no cherry tree. There was a crabapple tree. Or maybe not even that. Fact is not synonymous with truth, continues Lauren, proposing that her inventions tell her story more truthfully, and more honestly, than any facts.
Intertwined with the realities and unrealities associated with the condition of epilepsy, these confessions, along with Lauren’s pre-teen life experiences are staged as an impressionistic whirlwind of thoughts and happenings—lying, stealing, attending a special Catholic school where she is taught how to fall safely, and faking seizures throughout her adolescence.
Performers dance to 80s pop songs, and run around the stage, continually changing costumes to play different characters, and—when Lauren describes what she smells just prior to having a fit—spray those scents into a fan pointed at the audience. If I had my druthers, I’d have preferred this section—about half of the first act—to have stronger drama, better defined tertiary characters, and fewer philosophical musings on Lauren’s part. Still, the intentionally unpolished quality here creates an inclusive atmosphere, and we feel adoration for these performers, as if they were children putting on a show at home for family and friends.
Towards the end of the first act, whatever issues I had with the beginning vanish from my mind. Now, sharp, vivid characters have emerged, drama has achieved solid footing, and I find myself riveted. The philosophical concepts Lauren spoke of earlier gain both emotional and dramatic force and immediacy as we hear tales of brain surgery, literary ambitions, plagiarism, an illicit affair, and AA. There is much humor in this drama, which unfolds on Neal Wilkinson’s simple but effective set.
There is also a good deal of poetry, much of it quite sensual: “The air was a lot like a young girl’s skin at the peak of her arousal, even when the hard scars fill with a scarlet softness.” And: “One day when I was typing a story for English class, I had an aura that ended in orgasm. I pressed the Q key and heat went through me; I pressed the U key, and the heat turned to a sweaty shiver. I came to the sound of I-E-T, quiet, and each pulse of pleasure was a word.”
While all five performers are kinetic and a joy to watch, the two standouts are Mr. Wagner and Ms. Ranville. The puckish Wagner, whose personages include a neurosurgeon, a nun, and Jesus, is a naturally dynamic, animated presence. He continually finds things to do that explore his characters; his interior world is in constant motion. And the quietly charismatic Ranville plays her part with such naturalism, such lovely sincerity and simplicity, that she captivates. One can’t look away from her or this lovely production.
photos by Alan Roche
The Interart Theatre, 500 West 52 St.
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 5; Mon at 7
scheduled to end on November 3, 2014
for tickets, call 646-238-0829 or visit www.blessedunrest.org