As I Am Fully Known
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman Beaudin
August 16, 2010
The postcard for As I Am Fully Known, written by and starring Emily Rieder, contains the tag line, "I kissed a girl and my cat got struck by lightning." This quotation aptly introduces both the conflict and the comedic tone of this two-act, full-length play.
The play, set in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in the present day, tells the story of Gina (Rieder), a twentysomething young woman who has been in a secret lesbian relationship. She must negotiate her lies about her relationship, her Catholicism, and her many family problems, including her father's debilitating struggle with MS, her sister Marie's recently failed marriage, and her cousin's problems with the law. Gina has crippling feelings of guilt and feels responsibility for the many problems her family faces.
The play has many things going for it.
Rieder uses a solid structure with a clear plot. Every scene builds upon the next, and there are flashbacks which help us see more about the characters' relationships, especially the relationship between Gina and Jackie, her girlfriend.
The religious conflict adds texture and complexity to the piece because it is presented honestly. We see the very human struggles of Gina and Marie and even the priest, Father Patrick, as they try to decide whether Gina's relationship is a sin or whether it is a manifestation of love and therefore cannot be wrong or sinful. I appreciate that the characters are allowed to feel conflicting emotions and to go through the very human experience of trying to figure it all out, without being demonized for their conflicts.
The play, directed by Andrew Oswald, also gives its audience many enjoyable and strong performances. Ross DeGraw, as Father Patrick and also Pop, exudes warmth. He makes specific choices for each character, so much so that I actually did not realize the same actor was playing both roles until I looked at the program at intermission. I felt like I knew Marie, played by Gretchen Ferris, and I could see clearly into her character's conflicted heart. Gina is a likeable heroine who breaks the audience's hearts as she tries so hard to be a perfect daughter and sister, tries so hard to please everyone, even to her own detriment. Jackie, played by Rebecca Nerz, has clear chemistry with Gina. I especially liked how she sometimes played "against the grain," for example smiling when she was angry. Jess Presler, as Monte (the "clown of the play"), steals most of the scenes he is in as he curses, dances, and communicates with such honesty and street-smart wisdom.
I also loved the music, designed by Vince Gonzalez, as it provides smooth transitions. The music consists of pop songs that add to the mood and emotion of the different scenes.
The biggest strength of the script is that it really captures the dynamic of a super close family. The family members love one another but often act viciously as real family members do. The father's illness also adds texture to the story and raises the stakes for all the characters. Rieder's ear for Brooklyn dialect helps to make the characters more specific and real.
Despite these many strengths, the play could use some work in terms of subtlety. By the middle of the play, I was able to predict how everything was going to turn out, and the resolution disappointed me because I felt it went too far in tying things together too neatly. I also felt that the play sometimes presents its highly dramatic subject matter and strong emotions too simply. Marie's character, particularly, learns her lesson a bit too easily. The characters are going through major, serious conflicts, and the tone sometimes feels like that of a TV show. This is not a terrible sin, but I think that there is so much that is good about this piece that I would love it to be pushed to a higher level.
Overall, it is worthwhile to go on Gina's journey with her.