Linus & Alora
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 8, 2008
The young new season already has a substantial work of quality to its name—Andrew Irons's gorgeous, poetic play Linus & Alora is must-see viewing for audiences who love to be challenged, enchanted, and invigorated by the possibilities of theatrical storytelling. The production by Andhow! Theater Company, realized on stage by Andhow!'s artistic director, Jessica Davis-Irons, feels flawless. And it's anchored by remarkable performances, in the title roles, by two excellent actors, Arthur Aulisi and Melle Powers.
A synopsis of Linus & Alora ought to go here; I'm hard-pressed figuring out how to provide one that won't feel reductive or, worse, possibly diminish your experience of the play. It's not so much that the plot is full of surprises but rather that the way it unfolds is loaded with them: Irons's play is, as much as anything, about the power of imagination, and Davis-Irons's production celebrates and demonstrates the theme beautifully and persuasively.
So let me just say that Linus and Alora are a married couple, and when they hooked up each (in his or her way) pushed aside important aspects of the past to create something meaningful and new together. When we meet them, they are at a crucial point in their relationship: Alora tells Linus that she is pregnant. In a little more than an hour of stage time, the next nine months flash before us. What Linus, in particular, discovers during those nine months is the spine (heartbeat? soul?) of the story.
The play is full of astonishingly wonderful writing, notably a monologue delivered by Linus which is a reminiscence of his childhood that is achingly authentic and touching, particularly in Aulisi's magnificently understated telling of it, which feels as much to himself as to whomever might be listening. Much of the play takes place in worlds that aren't the "real" one—there are scenes and songs that happen inside Alora's head and several others that are conjured by her memories and/or fantasies. The ability of others in the room—on and offstage—to share them is part of the point of the play.
There's nothing traditional about the play's form or structure or, if you will, ideology; and Davis-Irons matches the author's thrilling freedom from constraint with a production that incorporates theatrical elements of just about every description. This is a play in which a trio of imaginary boys can morph into an a cappella singing group (performing a stunning rendition of "Summertime") or the Three Stooges; where an unborn baby can talk and goblins look like flamenco dancers. Dustin O'Neill's set looks at first glance like a kind of playground surrounding a sandbox, but when you look inside the sandbox you see that it's filled with verdant turf: life and its possibilities, not aridity and desolation, are always the focus here. And that's notwithstanding a serious sense of mortality that informs Linus & Alora's every moment.
O'Neill provides video projections that serve the piece well (sometimes they hurl past our eyes so fast that we can hardly take them in). Costumes by Becky Lasky are plentiful and evocative, and Owen Hughes's lighting and Jill B.C. DuBoff's sound and music contribute invaluably to the overall mood and tone of the play.
Six actors support Aulisi and Powers (though I was sure there had to be more). They are B. Brian Argotsinger, Tim Cain, Maria Cellario, Gamze Ceylan, Alex Smith, and Noah Trepanier. They're all terrific, but special kudos are due Argotsinger, Cain, and Trepanier for their harmonizing (singing and otherwise) as three guys named Owen, Arthur, and Neal.
Linus & Alora is funny, sad, uplifting, and very moving—precisely the sort of one-of-a-kind, richly immersive experience that only the theatre can provide. I urge you to see it: this is indie theater at its very best.