Almost Exactly Like Us
nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
April 23, 2010
Almost Exactly Like Us, the new play by Alan M. Berks now playing at the WorkShop Theatre, is the sort of play that my fairly conservative parents would hate. It opens with a display on a nameless, (seemingly) Middle Eastern country that America has occupied and shows expatriates finding each other through ulterior motives while all the while acting as pawns of the governments in play. Then we're introduced to the alternate realities and the play changes genre and becomes a bit sci-fi. Midway through the play, the story shifts abruptly to another setting where people who were dead in the preceding part of the story are alive and we get to see how people would behave given another set of circumstances, and then are allowed to see the different choices that may have happened if but for idle decisions made.
While, my parents would roll their eyes at the "liberal tripe" at first and then later become totally lost, I found the premise interesting, if not particularly original, but the execution ultimately left something to be desired. The introduction of the alternate reality concept is awkward, in large part because it comes so late in the story. The play isn't short, with the first act running just over an hour, and only a very brief, weird moment of the first act introduces the second reality. It's only in the second act that we actually see the rapid switching between timelines, and it at first seems to be a flashback instead. This approach, taking each timeline one at a time, may have lent itself to some of the confusion I felt. While the play does a good job of explaining and keeping in mind the historical details that form the jonbar points, the time spent in the first reality makes everything after it seem too jarringly different. If the first act had been shorter, it wouldn't have felt so out of place against the significantly shorter portions that follow.
This isn't to say that I disliked the overall play, nor that it was the second act that saved it from the first, but that despite the problems with story and pacing it is carried by some strong performances, with standout Anna O'Donoghue as Zoe. Lighting design by Victoria Miller and set design by Elisha Schaefer effectively convey the shifting locations The concept is almost strong enough on its own to keep me intrigued as we see how different circumstances change what allegiances are formed, who loves whom, and how people react to the world. If nothing else, the play opens up a lot of post-show discussion among those who watch it. If you're patient, this play has something to offer, but I don't think I would recommend this to the majority of my theatre-going friends.