nytheatre.com review by J Jordan & Don Jordan
August 15, 2004
Every year we attend the FringeNYC Festival we expect to experience certain things: low-budget shows in makeshift theaters all across Lower Manhattan, at times offering an opportunity for real creativity and originality. Whither Batavia?, written and directed by Barry Hall, takes place in one such setting—Players Studio 3C, a microscopic, dimly lit room decidedly removed from the chaos of MacDougal Street. Audience members quiet themselves upon entering the room, either because they are immediately greeted by a casket on stage or they are so surprised that anyone would suggest performing a show in such cramped, thrown-together quarters. That aside, the beauty of the set design for this show is that it can take place in any small room, and the lone casket sets the tone for what could be a very intimate piece of theater.
After the first of many blackouts, three men wearing virtually identical suits with ties appear behind the casket, gazing at and discussing the woman whose body supposedly lies inside it, a process that sets the pattern of the show. After each blackout the men reappear, sometimes in the same lineup, sometimes not, as different characters discussing a different woman. This happened so often and so quickly we both lost track of who any of the men (or deceased women) were supposed to be. The purpose of the play seems to be about the universality of death and how the living define themselves by their relationship to the deceased. (Don thinks the play is about masculinity as well, universal or not, as each of the characters in the scenarios are men who compete with each other in some way—who knew her best? For whom did she make a special pie? Who changed her life or which of their myriad lives did she change?)
Ultimately, we struggled to identify with the characters, due mostly to the play’s text. While Hall’s fast-paced dialogue is rhythmic, sometimes fun, and full of wit, it moves along too quickly for the players to discover the depth of the situations in which they find themselves. Having the three players portray different characters throughout the piece keeps any of the scenes from providing us with the universal truths the author seems to be aiming for.