“She pours herself a glass of seltzer” is one of numerous superfluous stage directions recited into a microphone by a performer doing a National Public Radio-style voice while onstage during playwright Alex Borinsky’s jaded Brief Chronicle, Books 6–8. The cast also vamps and smirks their way through a Mexican dance routine. Well, it’s only an hour.
“A wry reflection of identity in the modern world” is how the theater company i am a slow tide describes itself. Founded in 2018 by Augustus Heagerty, it’s “a performance and media collection that activates alternative pathways for consideration.” These au courant declarations are definitely evidenced by this coy meta spectacle.
At a house in Baltimore in 2014 we meet the disaffected 29-year-old Julian who lives with his alcoholic mom Joan, “I’m an office manager. I’m a paralegal. I work the front desk in a gym. I clean houses.” Julian is visited by the ghost of Dan (DT). He is a 21-year-old who died while setting off a bomb in Boston. A romance blossoms between the living and the dead young men. Also popping up is Julian’s good friend Mia. Providing further absurdity are the periodic appearances of a high school marching band played by one performer in a requisite uniform and carrying a flute. There is more rumination rather than actual plot, but this crew does journey to Mexico for hijinks.
Ms. Borinsky’s exercise could certainly please ardent devotees of nonconventional theater while anyone else might feel indifference. The stylized dialogue strives for and succeeds at that desired wry tone with its non sequiturs and mélange of jokiness and emotionality. The artifice of it all is distancing and so nothing is really compelling.
“It’s best when each performer is older, or younger, or of a different gender- expression, ethnicity, or ability than you might expect. This keeps the play vibrating in your imagination” are from Borinsky’s stage directions. For this production we get a youthful cast playing roles opposite their presumed genders with skillful exaggeration.
The balletic and expressive Jacob Perkins admirably manages to be simultaneously campy and moving as Mom and Mia. Playing Julian and Dan respectively are the charming duo of Susanna Stahlmann and Janice Amaya who both veer from morose to animated. Combining hilarity and poignancy is Nicole Spiezio as The Band whose sunniness and comic flair are invaluable. The bespectacled Lindsay Head is perfectly deadpan delivering the stage directions.
Mr. Heagerty’s direction is of accomplished simplicity with some presentational flourishes. The choreography by Ms. Head and Jesse Kovarsky is strategically silly but there’s a lovely serious sequence.
The cool abstract setting by scenic designer Sam Max is framed by shredded yellow plastic curtains adorned with colorful shapes. The table is covered with a nostalgic floral cloth. It all neatly dissolves into a spare environment with a blue kiddie pool for the Mexico detour. Bax Pitt’s active lighting design achieves a dreamy dimension. Sound designer Peter Mills Weiss adeptly renders circus music, incidental melodies and effects. The costume design by Ivy Karlsgodt is an artful blend of the flamboyant and the ordinary.
Brief Chronicle, Books 6–8’s hollow sensibility could be appealing if that’s what one is seeking.
Brief Chronicle, Books 6–8 (through June 14, 2019)
i am a slow tide
Access Theater, 380 Broadway, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.iamaslowtide.com
Running time: 60 minutes without an intermission