nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 21, 2008
When I read in a press release for a new show something like
Imminence follows three generations of a family in an exploration of time, and how it shapes our lives from the smallest human instant to the massive geotectonic cycles of the earth.
all kinds of defenses pop up in my skeptical theatre reviewer's mind. But I went to see The Talking Band's new show Imminence anyway, and if you love theatre that's adventurous and stimulating and profound at that indefinable and ineffable gut level, then you should too. Eschewing traditional narrative, genre, and structure, this multimedia play with music uncovers and explores all manner of astonishing aspects of the nature of time and human beings' puny place within it. It genuinely inspires awe and wonder.
Imminence is about Lilly and Victor, a married couple, and their children Rory and Simone, and Rory's daughter Sophie (who marries Timothy) and Simone's daughter Phoebe. (During the play we also meet Rory's wife Fay, Lilly's physician Dr. Coolhaus, and a friend of Timothy's named Martha.) The narrative is the opposite of linear—it's fragmented, out-of-sequence, and like much of life its details are often sketchy or unsupplied, leaving us to fill in the missing gaps. Most of it happens at certain key periods in the family's history: during Simone and Rory's childhood, at Sophie and Timothy's wedding, during a cross-country trip that Simone and Phoebe are taking (they're heading to Coney Island, childhood home of Simone's parents). Very quickly in the play it becomes clear that Lilly has died, leaving Victor alone and unprepared for his aloneness.
But the play isn't just about isolation or its complement, connection. As the piece unfolds—in short scenes, snatches of song, vignettes underscored by a percussive chorus, monologues, video sequences, dances and choreographed movement segments, you name it—its nature as a meditation on our ephemeralness and our singularity not only moves into focus but deepens and expands. The play's themes pull us in and engulf us. It reminded me of Our Town, except it feels less like watching it and more like living in it.
Extraordinary things happen in Imminence: the sun shines at night in one memorable sequence, and the ocean surrounding Coney Island disappears in another. Martha, who never meets Lilly (she becomes acquainted with Dr. Coolhaus at Sophie and Timothy's wedding), speaks at Lilly's funeral (a breathtaking and oddly appropriate eulogy). And there are earthquakes...
But mostly what happens in Imminence is the very very ordinary, and that's where the piece derives its remarkable power. Writer/director Paul Zimet puts the simplest of moments—a family meal, a sudden downpour, a man awakening during the night to go to the bathroom—under a spotlight and then under a microscope, the better for us to understand them. Momentous events are juxtaposed with the most mundane, so that a young woman's future might be decided by playing a game of scissors/paper/stone with her mother and a lasting and possible life-changing friendship can begin with a random seating at a wedding reception. Nothing is vital; everything is vital.
Zimet and his collaborators—composers Ellen Maddow and Peter Gordon, videographer Kit Fitzgerald, choreographer Hilary Easton, and designers Nic Ularu, Carol Mullins, Kiki Smith, and Tim Schellenbaum—frame this wildly meandering yet introspective meditation in brilliantly theatrical terms, so that Imminence always engages and delights as it challenges and teases. (The sequence on the Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster, for example, is spectacular.) And the ten-member ensemble of performers who act, sing, and dance the piece are sublime. Steven Rattazzi's Dr. Coolhaus and Ellen Maddow's Martha are especially memorable, capturing great truths in small, subtle moments on stage. Amelia Campbell (Simone), David Brooks (Rory), Kim Gambino (Fay), and Lula Graves (Phoebe) form a startlingly organic family unit despite the physical and emotional distances that separate their characters, while Tina Shepard's Lilly and Will Badgett's Victor show us what happens when an insoluble bond is forced to dissolve. Kristine Lee (Sophie) and Gregory Manley (Timothy) have less to do, but are nevertheless invaluable supporting the piece.
Like time, Imminence is finally impossible to pin down—it's not just this sort of theatre piece or that sort of performance art, but rather a stunning and profound amalgamation of lots of disciplines and media that opens up a window into something fundamental that we seldom look at. Its soul is immense. I was gratified and grateful to experience it.