As the packed crowd in the lobby of The Tank theater files into their seats, they are presented with an empty stage, bare to the back wall, inhabited only by a single figure, a woman (Megan Hill, Drama Desk Award nominee for Eddie and Dave), in a magician’s garb. Eyes closed, she appears to be sleeping on her feet, her face mildly responding to dreams passing through her mind.
The play is Open by Crystal Skillman as told by The Magician.
The Magician awakens and sees the audience; incredulous and awestruck, she steps forward with cautious delight. “I’m here, I’m here, I am here, your magician.” Eyes wide, she takes us all in. “Here you are. An audience…thank you for joining me. It’s incredible. Imagining you.”
With these words, it becomes clear that reality, at least for the Magician, is on hold, and she proceeds to take us, her imagined audience, on a story ride beginning with some magic tricks.
As she performs her first trick to no results, she’s reminded: “You need a word…Abracadabra. When I say abracadabra we will accomplish our task! To bring forth the reality of the imagination. Abracadabra, did you know? Means ‘as it is spoken.’ As I have been brought here, so have you. This magic show is a contract between you and I.”
She’s very impressed with the results of her magic tricks and asks us to pretend that we see these amazing results too.
What exactly are we doing here?
“We’re here for Jenny,” she says. “Every person who has ever loved – has a magician! Jenny has me…things have gone horribly wrong, I know! We are in a crisis!”
What crisis? The audience has no idea, but this magician, who later introduces herself as Kristen says, “What better way to get to the bottom of a crisis than a magic show?!! When love hangs in the balance it is life and death.”
For the next 60 minutes, Kristen tells us in between performing pantomimed magic tricks how she and Jenny met, and we slowly learn what has befallen Jenny as Kristen desperately clings to her magic and thoughts of Jenny.
Skillman unfolds an achingly beautiful story, dropping bits and pieces of Kristen’s thoughts and memories as she balances her tightrope of love, commitment, sacrifice and transformation.
Hill’s performance as Kristen is funny, honest, compelling and heartbreaking; one cannot take their eyes off her, and it’s not because she is the sole occupant of the stage.
Sound designer Emma Wilk deftly intertwines the stage action with perfectly chosen sound bites, complementing our collective imagination in the absence of sets or props. Lighting by Sarah Johnston is equally creative, defining space and time in this empty space with excellent precision. Becky Bodurtha’s costuming is just what’s needed to hide and reveal Kristen’s different layers.
Jessi D. Hill’s direction exquisitely weaves actor, story, light and sound into a moving and inspiring tapestry.
No rabbits are pulled from hats in this show, but strings are pulled from hearts. As it is spoken.
Open (through June 22, 2019)
The Tank (312 West 36th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues; take the back elevator to floor 1), in Manhattan
For tickets visit https://www.thetanknyc.org/open
Running time: 60 minutes with no intermission