|Denise Gough and Barbara Martens|
Duncan MacMillan's play People, Places and Things (now playing at St. Ann's Warehouse through December 3) has an addict who is the 12-step nightmare. To say that Emma (the incredible Denise Gough) is a hot mess is an understatement -- in the opening scene she is high out of her mind and slurring her way through The Seagull. She blacks out at a club (the loud, relentless electronica music played during the play starts to feel like a pounding nightmare). We next see her at a rehab center -- she snorts a line of coke at the counter. Once in rehab she rejects every part of the "process," as the center calls the 12-step program. She's rude, cynical, dismissive of the group therapy sessions and we're never sure whether she's putting on a performance. She is an actress after all and her name and stories switch constantly. The direction emphasizes how schizophrenic Emma is as a narrator of her own story by having doubles often joining the stage with her as her identity becomes more fractured and confused.
So if you take out Denise Gough's fearless, terrifying performance and and Jeremy Herrin's clever direction (the white-tiled set represents the impersonal rehab clinic but also the blank spaces that dot an addict's mind) does MacMillan's play have lasting power? Well ... uh, I don't know, but my guess is no. It's an intense, harrowing theatrical experience and one I'm glad I experienced but besides the structural flaw I mentioned earlier I also think the play suffers one fatal defect: Emma is compelling and watchable, but she's not someone I cared about. I'm not saying that all protagonists have to likable, but I have to be invested in their journey. Still, Denise Gough gives an incredible performance and the play is definitely worth seeing. She will be back on Broadway in the spring in the highly anticipated Angels in America.
|Ben Platt, Will Roland, and Mike Faist|
And I suddenly feel the branch give wayYou realize that Evan is actually talking about his own suicide attempt and it's chilling. The story has some holes in it and the ending is a bit muddled but it's playing to sell-out crowds night after night because it has likable characters that we want to follow. Their loneliness and pain resonates with people. Seriously, if you haven't seen this musical yet, go! In other news during intermission I ran into Ben Platt's alternate, Michael Lee Brown. I've heard he's also amazing and seeing him as Evan is also on my never-ending to-do list.
I'm on the ground
My arm goes numb
I look around