nytheatre.com review by Komail Aijazuddin
October 25, 2006
Nestled in the misty, jagged mountains of the Himalayas is a small country called Bhutan. It has a population of over two million and most people would be hard pressed to locate it on a map (below China, above India, take my word for it). Many might even go their whole lives without knowing it existed at all.
"Isn't that weird?" asks Frances (Sarah Lord), the precocious, well-read, aspiring world citizen in playwright Daisy Foote's latest offering: Bhutan. Directed superbly by Evan Yionoulis, the play is a clever, intimate look into the downward spiral of a New England family still coming to terms with loss; the loss of a father and husband, yes, but also the loss of direction, of security, and of contentment and the assumptions that led to them. Tasha Lawrence plays the single mother Mary who tries daily to raise her daughter (Frances), idolize her son (Warren, played by Jedadiah Schultz), and save her sister (Sara, played by Amy Redford, you guessed it, Robert Redford's daughter). Lawrence's performance is spectacular. Subtle and endearing, it is at once authoritative and vulnerable. Redford is hilarious and disarming, and Schultz and Lord are compelling in their nuances.
There is an aspect of voyeurism to the theatre of course. The "fourth wall" often dissolves into our mindscape and turns realism into reality. But rarely is one as aware of this as in Bhutan. The chemistry among the performers imbibes this family with a plausible closeness, a history that with every hug, tear, tickle, or laugh makes us increasingly vested in their eventual well-being.
Our first peek through the keyhole of Bhutan's world shows Frances visiting her adoring brother Warren in jail. Mary has just been promoted to middle management in her banking job and her sister Sara is recovering from a particularly nasty breakup with her boyfriend of 15 years. From here on in the narrative weaves between past mistakes and future punishments. Foote's dialogue is layered and complex. The characters' pasts are repeatedly exhumed and paraded before us, naked and heaving, flashing dangerous glimpses of buried emotional baggage. The family is cognizant and proud of their working class roots. They are content in their daily rituals of familiar conversations and second-tier dreams. All except Frances, whose friendship with an aged Columbia University professor has exposed her to opera, liberalism, and Bhutan.
The distant country becomes a symbol for Frances's potential and aspirations, concepts she believes to be mutually exclusive to her family. It becomes a symbol, eventually, for each of the characters. For Mary, it becomes the conduit of her loss, and for the others, a symbol of their gain.
The space of the play is entirely limited to the family kitchen, a purgatory for stale lives and fresh hope. Laura Hyman's detailed set is the platform for the characters, and becomes a fifth character, silently prodding and caressing the family in the hopes that they can stay together under one roof.
Bhutan shows us that not every escape is voluntary, and neither is every commitment. The country itself might be a lottery ticket away ($10,000 according to the play!) but the chance to escape into stunning, rich tapestry is nestled in the Cherry Lane theatre. Believe me, you won't miss the mountains.