nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
January 7, 2012
This year’s Under the Radar Festival offers a wide variety of promising theatrical pieces at several locations. One such piece is Deborah Stein and Suli Holum’s Chimera, now playing at HERE. Commissioned, developed, and produced by HERE as part of the HARP Residency Program, this 60-minute one-woman play examines what truly makes a person a person through the eyes of science and the level of emotional damage that inner conflict can yield.
The solo performer is co-creator Holum. She portrays 3 central characters throughout her performance. The first is a mysterious Midwestern narrator; next is Jennifer Samuels, the sophisticated mother of Holum’s last character, her genetically “damaged” adolescent son. Holum breathes honest and layered life into each of the characters.
Jennifer’s son was born with a mild heart condition (a benign pediatric heart murmur), which spurs his mother into using her knowledge of biology and access to a testing lab to find out WHY he is “broken.” What she discovers is that she herself has the genetic anomaly. She has “medical chimerism,” more specifically, her own body contains two separate sets of DNA, enough for two different people and one set carries the defect. A chimera is a mythological monster made up of many different animals so the name of the disorder seems appropriate. The perfectionist that she is won’t allow her to love herself or her son in the way she deems necessary and so her cold treatment of her son turns her, literally, into a monster.
Stein is given the writing credit and although the subject matter is interesting, the text merely scratches the surface of this story, which the creators say was inspired by a true story. Frequently the dialogue is unnecessarily repetitive. Luckily Holum’s likable, dynamic and frightening performance, in combination with the brilliant tech elements, creates a very memorable evening. The video design by Room 404 Media (Kate Freer and David Tennet) is breathtaking and smartly arranged on Jeremy Wilhelm’s perfectly functional set. The sound and lighting work by James Sugg and James Clotfelter, respectively, is subtle and exciting. Both elements help to really takes the play to a beautiful place.
This is impressive work and I would be excited to see the text expand and become more specific. Chimera is definitely worth a look at Under the Radar this year.