nytheatre.com review by Edward Elefterion
August 11, 2007
Quantum theory is a pretty heady but fascinating subject, one that easily engages and baffles my imagination. The press materials for Lucid further whet my curiosity: "Attempting to unify the uncharted realm of the psyche with that of the universe, the invisible with what is seen, and the paradox of a lucid dream, Lucid uses elements of surrealism, quantum physics, and comedy to explore the mystery that lurks beneath each and every moment." Lucid doesn't explore as much as it promises.
The plot revolves around James, a science teacher whose wife Natalie recently died. His student Jerome, a high school basketball star, has been offered a full scholarship to play ball at a top university but needs a recommendation letter to vouch for his scholastic promise. Jerome approaches his science teacher to ask for the letter (he's alienated all of his other teachers with his bad-ass attitude) but the timing couldn't be worse: James is grieving to the point of hallucination. He sees Natalie in his classroom and she haunts his dreams. But are these appearances hallucinations? Is it possible that she can exist somewhere in an alternate version of reality?
Unfortunately, the play stops short of exploring these questions. It's as if playwright Jordan Smedberg isn't sure how to explore the imaginative circumstances that she invents. For example, although James is haunted by memories of his dead wife, sleeps with her still fragrant robe, and even has lucid (conscious) dreams where he is visited by Einstein, Freud, and Poe, nothing happens to him. That is, he doesn't change. None of the thinly drawn characters does.
While it was refreshing to see a play whose healthy mix of races in the audience was reflected in the healthy mix of races on stage, it was disappointing to see that Smedberg hardly ventured beyond two-dimensional characters. Jerome and his pal Gerald are young, black basketball-playing troublemakers who talk back and razz their educated white teacher who doesn't think much of their "sixth-grade" level of intellectual ability. Andrew is a gay artist friend who hollers at the "bitches" (waitresses) at the bar he manages and consoles James with a hug and some groceries. And Natalie, the dead wife, is little more than a mouthpiece for the science that really interests the playwright.
Special mention should be made of Ronald Washington as Jerome and Pat Swearingen as Andrew. Both are genuinely compelling, the kind of actors you hope won't leave the stage.
Director Mariel Goddu's presentation of the world of the play is ironic, considering the title. It seems that a play titled Lucid that wants to be about the subject of the fluidity of space and time would not get caught in the trap of literal, three-dimensional bric-a-brac. But that's what happens. Both set and sound design are cumbersome. Blackouts follow every scene, furniture is upended and shifted around in the dark, and sound cues stall the earnest and hardworking actors as they wait for the pop of a gun or a phone to ring.
The creators of Lucid set out with an admirable purpose and I wholeheartedly support the attempt. They're interested in the big questions: What does death mean? How do we cope with grief? What is a dream? Where do we find comfort? Any piece of theatre that even attempts to wrestle with these questions deserves attention.