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White Noise

nytheatre.com review by Joan Kane
June 30, 2013

White Noise

Gabrielle Young, Matthew Nered, and Susan O'Doherty in a scene from White Noise | William Gutierrez

I saw White Noise by Tom Block as presented by Theatre for the New City in their Cabaret Theater. The piece is written using a combination of theatrical styles including those of Brecht, Realism, Magical Realism and Movement Theatre to try to tell a story of an individual’s struggle with spiritual awakening.

The lead character is Tim, an African-American painter whose work is based on spiritual themes. He travels to Detroit to participate in an exhibit of his work organized by a church arts committee. He encounters Dick, an ex-Northrup Grumman Vice President, Lilac, a poet, and Joan, an oversexed marriage therapist. Thrown into the mix is the muse for Tim’s imagination, Simone Weil, the WWII French philosopher, Christian mystic and social activist. Tim’s beliefs about faith, his race and his sexual hang-ups are put under a microscope and reviewed in infinite detail. There is a lot more discussion than action and I am not sure that this was a play as much as an existentialist graduate thesis that bandied about ideas of mysticism and spirituality.

The show is directed by Moema Umann and features Daniel Abse, Emily Ward, Carol Beaugard, Matt Nared, Susan O’Doherty and Gabrielle Young. The cast gives convincing performances of their characters. They are very good at quickly switching from breaking-the-fourth-wall, direct address of the audience to intimate drawing room conversations. The visually stunning Gabrielle Young, plays Simone Weil with excellent commitment.

Playwright Tom Block is also a visual artist. His painted panels of abstract art, based on the 13th century Sufi tract “Conference of Birds” by Attar, are effectively used by set designer Angelica Borrero as rolling panels to create a variety of backdrops. Alexander Bartenieff’s lighting design smoothly coordinates with the characters moving the panels to establish various locations. Choreographer Liz Higgins creates beautiful, fluid movements that especially enhances the imaginary character of Simone Weil. Cellist Desiree Miller playes the haunting music expertly. I enjoyed the visual approach to the production. The Cabaret Theater is a small space and this show looked beautiful there.