nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 3, 2012
For me, the creation of art is a miracle. I don't know how someone sits down with a sketchpad and draws forth a portrait or landscape from a pencil in his hand; or how someone else sits down at a keyboard and causes beuatiful music to emanate when she touches the keys. What we call talent—or sometimes genius—is ineffable and awesome and deeply mysterious.
Edward Elefterion—a theater artist endowed with prodigious amounts of talent—explores this notion in his new play, Alone. It's inspired by August Strindberg, and though I'm far from an expert on the subject, it's clear that the play is filled with vignettes and allusions to the great man's life and art. It takes place during August's middle age, after his wife has left him and it seems as though his creative power has abandoned him as well. He's returned to the city of his birth, taken up residence in a boarding house, and spends his days searching for inspiration. By the end of the play, he's found it, and appears ready to enter a new phase of productivity.
For me, it is not the specifics of August's story that resonate, though; it's the agony he endures to get back on track that really moves me. The play's title reveals it all: August is no recluse, but the journey back to himself—any such journey, for any of us—has to be undertaken on his own. Alone gives us the "real" August that people encounter and meet, also the "realer" one who travels through time and imagination to relive happier days with his wife and daughter, make the acquaintance of a composer who seems eerily like himself a few decades earlier, and even converse about art and philosophy with Edgar Allen Poe, who died in the same year that Strindberg was born. Poe tells August, "Don’t confuse reality with what’s real." Therein lies the key to Alone.
Elefterion reinforces the play's ideas with the inclusion of August's Landlady as the other main character in the piece. She's a fan, but she's in almost every way his opposite: they recite "The Raven" together, but she's ultimately grounded despite her love of poetic fancy while he of course is able to soar in ways she never can. She's embodied by actress Alyssa Simon in an extraordinarily warm, generous, pragmatic performance, one that matches Timothy McCown Reynolds' high-voltage soul-baring portrayal of the writer. Just five other actors complete the ensemble, all delivering expert work: Annalisa Ledson is luminous and convincing as both August's remembered wife and young daughter, Adam Griffith is wondrously shape-shifting as a veteran and the young composer who is August's time-traveling doppelganger, Tracy Shar is memorable as a formidable if enigmatic beggar woman who seems to have a history with August, and Josh Sponberg and Korey Emslie are the play's Kurogos (counterparts to the Kurokos of Kabuki theater, working props and lights in full view of the audience).
Alone is magisterially directed by Elefterion in his trademark minimalist manner, where props and set pieces are used sparingly and seem to materialize magically out of the blackness that almost always envelops the playing area. Designers Pei-Chi Su (costumes) and Ryan Metzler (lights) have collaborated with Elefterion (set and sound) to create a world for this play that defines it with real exactitude.
In the end, this team of remarkable artists chart the fearsome journey that one must take—alone—to arrive at that exhilarating place—also alone—where true invention emerges. It's a thrilling trip.