No Man's Island
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
May 10, 2007
The HERE performance space is easily one of my favorite spots in the city to see cutting-edge theater. Currently it is in the midst of a massive renovation, so the usual entrance is blocked off, and the audience needs to enter a side door and follow a long string of red tape, winding downstairs and through gray cinder-blocked corridors. After turning yourself about a few times, and you finally enter the theatre where No Man's Island, the riveting new piece from Australian playwright Ross Mueller, is playing, you encounter two men sleeping in a harshly-lit, cramped prison cell. The journey to reach the cell itself could not prepare you better for this intensely amped and emotionally charged total theatre' experience.
Produced by the aptly named, Brooklyn-based GUTWorks theatre and multimedia company, No Man's Island is a modern day Sartre-esque tale of two men, Rob (Daniel Burmester) and Tim (Jonathan Maloney), locked in an Australian prison cell with no prayer of release. Punctuated with stark aural reminders that they are trapped, they busy themselves with banal, repetitive conversation at first. Slowly, under exquisite direction from Kali Quinn, the actors develop a rhythm with each other and the audience and reveal the varying emotional layers of Rob and Tim. From the outset, it seems that Tim is driving the action of the piece and is the George to Rob's Lenny (in an Of Mice and Men way). But by the end of the piece, the characters become fully three dimensional and an emotional power struggle flips back and forth like a tennis match at full tilt.
It's rare to see a pair of actors commit to characters as fully as Burmester and Maloney do and their intensity truly allows you to feel like you're in the prison cell with them and experience what they experience. You sweat with them under the harsh fluorescent glare of the prison lights. You go sleepless with Rob and Tim when they go sleepless. You are in the backyard with them, watching them pretend to play Australian football against one another. You get stuck in the rainy mud beside a rusty tractor as Tim performs the evil deed that got him thrown into prison in the first place. You cringe as Rob continues to believe, futilely, about the existence of his older brother.
Kudos must also be awarded to the outstanding technical work on display. The lighting design by Vincent Vigilante is superbly foreboding, as is the sound design from Joe Williamson. Olga Mills's costuming is appropriately filthy, and the set design from Joe Egan is so effectively cramped you'll have trouble breathing properly.
There isn't much to find wrong about No Man's Island if you're a regular downtown theatergoer who likes to be challenged with loose ends and serious introspective drama. Quinn, Burmester, and Maloney have brought to life a powerful new piece that deserves a longer run and as much attention as it can grab.