nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
January 8, 2009
It's easy to take shots at the contemporary theatre audience's attention span. A seemingly agreed-upon shortening of play running times has audiences checking their watches as soon as they sit down. But what this makes us forget about the theatre is how much can be gained if we are willing to listen—that it's not our rules that need govern a play, it's the play's rules. Eight, now playing at P.S. 122 as part of the COIL Festival, is a good lesson of this fact and a fantastic show.
Eight is made up of eight long-form monologues written and directed by Ella Hickson. The tie that binds these monologues together is the generation of all of its speakers. Hickson, based on responses to a survey that asked twentysomethings what defined their generation, has shaped eight rich portraits ranging from a single mother to a prostitute to a victim of the 7/7 bombings in London.
All the talk about attention span is to say that "long-form" is truly what these monologues are—and it is not always easy to keep focus on eight monologues that total two-and-a-half hours. But it's all worth it. The young cast members (all, including Hickson, are current students or recent university graduates) are each captivating, their characters well-drawn.
Their stories develop slowly and are acted—with a few exceptions—with a deliberate pacing that gives every moment of the stories weight. And Hickson's writing is superb. The monologues are mainly straightforward, without literary flourish. Hickson just takes these characters through the paces of their stories and is able to achieve incredible depth, color, and texture by pushing these characters to talk a little more and a little more—each revelation coming out as organically as if you push anyone to talk more after they might be expected to stop.
In Edinburgh, where it won the Best of Edinburgh Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the play was presented as a kind of lottery. Audience members, on entering the theatre, were given slips of paper with short sketches about the eight characters. They would then vote for the four characters they would most like to hear from and the top four vote getters would be shown. This would make the show a much more traditional length for a monologue show and is a perfectly reasonable way to present the show. The monologues are not obviously thematically related and would do well in any combination. But it was satisfying to seeing all of the pieces conceived under this project all together.
Particularly strong are Simon Ginty, as the teenager, Jude, in love with a much older woman; Holly McLay as, Bobby, the single mother preparing for Christmas; and Michael Whitham as Andre, the gallery owner who has just discovered his partner has committed suicide. But the ensemble is wholly engaging and Ella Hickson is a talent of tremendous promise.