Come Thick Night

When you see a production of Macbeth, you're likely to leave the theater thinking something like: "Wow, that was a really exciting and scary story!"; or perhaps: "I think the moral crisis that this character or that character went through was really interesting because..."

Come Thick Night, a new play by John Crutchfield at FringeNYC that takes a lot of Macbeth's text and mashes it up with original dialogue plus diverse concepts from contemporary culture, is a very different kind of theatrical experience. You may relate to the throughline of the piece, but I think you're more likely to walk out of theater saying that it made you FEEL this way or that way (or both ways, or many ways). This is not traditional drama: this is poetic, abstract, very visceral theater that makes its principal impact somewhere deep inside your spiritual self rather than at the obvious sensory receptors.

I feel like the idea of an article like this is to try to describe the work to you so that you'll become interested enough to sample it for yourself. (I am not going to try to explain it, because I want you to experience it and then decide what it meant to you during and after that experience.)

So, some description.

The subtitle says it's a "Shakespearean Grusselkabinett," which the playwright told me means a Shakespearean chamber of horrors. Definitely true: the action, such as it is, depicts a man and a woman's repeated/recurring/ongoing nightmares. And like dreams, the entirety of this piece is elusive, off-kilter, and unrealistic. That mood and feel is amplified by the fact that both the actors in real life and the characters they portray are not native speakers of English; the ideas of trying on new skins and new roles, playing with and being weirded out by new sounds and meanings, never being exactly sure of everything--these permeate the play.

Because I'm pretty familiar with John Crutchfield's work for the theater before this, I also was aware of the playwright himself trying on/trying out new forms and shapes here: the play is nothing like anything he's written, except thematically perhaps; the unexpected juxtapositions and leaps are the crux of the piece, as in this passage where the woman speaks Lady Macbeth's speech from Act I, Scene 5 of Macbeth and the man, who morphs from Messenger to Knight during her speech, responds:

WOMAN: Come, thick night,
and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
that my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
to cry 'Hold, hold!'
Thy message has transported me beyond
this ignorant present, and I feel now
the future in the instant.
KNIGHT: I know, right?

We're compelled to listen and watch in a very active way when this kind of thing happens; the play is hypnotic and in several scenes there's almost certainly nothing to actually see at all, and that's weird and untethering. But it's all in the service, again, of having something happen to us in the room. And something will--does--happen.

Come Thick Night is directed by Crutchfield and performed by Laura Tratnik and Niels Bormann, whose work is detailed and precise and hugely potent. It's the kind of work that inspires dialogue among those who just witnessed it, which is the best kind of theater as far as I'm concerned. And as I think back on it my opinions about it keep shifting, and I suspect that if I saw it again and again, they'd shift still more. Definitely a compelling addition to this year's festival--I hope I've enticed you to check it out!