As Long a Time as a Long Time is in Long Time Land
nytheatre.com review by Kat Chamberlain
July 15, 2007
Can time destroy memory? Or ease the pain that comes with memory? Can you hold on to memory if that is all you have?
I have more questions than answers after seeing As Long a Time as a Long Time is in Long Time Land by Todd Pate, and that is definitely a good thing. A heart-pounding interrogation of our relationship with memory, the answers the show provides are meant for you to probe even deeper. I would be hard-pressed to think of too many plays tempting intellectual exercise with such gripping tension.
We see a lone haggard old man in a dark cell attending to his routine—putting on clothes and walking around, seemingly without any real purpose. A door opens and a young man is thrown in. Disoriented and scared, the new prisoner demands to know why he is brought here, who the old man is, and how long the other man has been locked up in here.
"As long a time as a long time is in longtimeland..." The old man sing-songs.
"What is that supposed to mean?" The young man is not amused.
"I think it means...we have always been here? Or...something eternal..."
Time passes and the examination of memory is brought into ever shaper focus. The young prisoner tries all he can to figure out how he may regain freedom, but to his shock he cannot recall how he ended up here in the first place, or even some of the most crucial information. "What do you love more than anything in your world?" The old man asks him. "My family!" He proudly replies. "What are their names?" The old man inquires further. But for the life of him the young man cannot supply an answer, and is stricken by a horrible pain—emotionally and physically.
It's fascinating to watch these two men closing in on each other and themselves for the key to their freedom, here a metaphor for more than just getting out of a prison. The ending provides quite an absorbing twist as well. Pate's prose and dialogue is by turns hauntingly beautiful and brutally searing. There are two transitions I felt might be a little too abrupt: when the young man first gets lured into the philosophical discussion, and later, when the old man is pushed to admit certain truth about himself. I'd love to see more back story and action that might give this exploration of the mind more body. The questions posed are so deep that something real and tangible for us to attach them to would be greatly helpful.
But I love the sound, look, and feel of the play. An eerie dribble serves as the inexorable keeper of time. Michael Rushton's young prisoner is earnest and effective. However, the script demands more from Christopher Hurt's old prisoner, and he is truly something to behold. His eyes seem to impart a message as ancient as time itself. Director Barbara Suter fully utilizes the space (at one point the old prisoner almost landed on me, my seat being in the first row) to give this conversation a very visual impact.
So can we willingly forgo or retain memory? I want the running time to be twice as long for me to ruminate more on this eternal question.