Although written and directed by Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone of 600 Highwaymen, The Following Evening is a tribute and a summing up of the 50 year career and marriage of experimental theater legends Ellen Maddow and Paul Zimet, co-founding members of the Talking Band. In the past they were usually seen at La MaMa ETC, but the new show is part of the inaugural season at the Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC) in the black box theater known as Theater C. The space is perfectly suitable to the minimalist performance piece which includes all four actors.
Making use of scenes, dialogues, songs, stylized movement and reminiscences, The Following Evening is mainly biographical using known facts about Maddow and Zimet. It is also deals with a life in the theater, living in a Soho loft on Mercer Street (which they do) and feelings about aging and time passing. (He is 80 and she is now 75.) The two couples are theater creators 40 years apart and at times the young couple seems to be the older couple at the beginning of their careers. The foursome often does choreographed movement in which each two mirrors each other.
After an opening prologue in which Zimet introduces himself and facts of his life (dropping out of medical school and to returning Manhattan to act, how he and Maddow met, moving into Maddow’s loft on Mercer Street, their next-door neighbor the artist Katherine, etc.,) Zimet and Maddow discuss a performance they gave the previous evening at La MaMa as to whether it was successful and whether they achieved their goals. They remind each other that there is no predicting how audiences will react to the attempt to create art. This sounds like a conversation that they have often had over the years. There is a great deal of theater talk in The Following Evening, references to when they met at Joe’s theater years ago (that is, Joe Chaikin, founder of the Open Theater) and Mia (that is Mia Soo, artistic director of La MaMa since the death of founder Ellen Stewart), and the fact that theater is “made entirely of snow,” here today and gone tomorrow.
They appear to rehearse a new play with Browde and Silverstone who give direction and sometimes enter into their performance. The younger couple also has a section of their own about a fraught car trip that seems tangential to the action of the evening. Browde and Silverstone worry out loud about their next job, just as Maddow and Zimet have probably done many times over the last 50 years. Zimet and Maddow also talk about age catching up with them, Zimet has a recent bicycle accident (which has been documented elsewhere) and their next-door neighbor Katherine dies leaving her loft empty. A skylight they built when they moved in comes down and they discuss how to get it fixed so that it will remain up permanently. (Whether this has actually happened or is predicted to occur in the future is not made clear.) They refer to Ava, their dog, as though she is on stage with them. The evening ends with Maddow declaring how all things change, “A magic trick. I’m one thing, now I am another. You begin here, you end up there.” A capstone of a long career.
Although Jian Jung is credited with the sparse scenic design, the minimalist staging only makes use of a piano on one side of the stage and a bench on the other as well as floor and wall lamps. Huge, tall flats lean against stage left as though left over from a previous production or being stored for a future one. Jung’s costumes are the sort of casual monochromatic items one might wear at a rehearsal. Eric Southern’s lighting design complements the elegiac mood of the play. The original music is by Avi Amon but it is not made clear whether he has set the few songs or whether he only is responsible for the background music.
The Following Evening is not for all theatergoers. As Zimet warns us early on, “Nothing is going to happen in this play.” However, Maddow and Zimet reveal a great deal about their lives and careers in a performance without transitions and without props, and what it has been like creating avant-garde theater as a couple in the last five decades. This not for those who do not like minimalist theater. For others, it will be a masterpiece of the imagination allowing the eye and the ear to fill in what the performers omit or skip over.
The Following Evening (through February 18, 2024)
Theater C at Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC), 251 Fulton Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.pacnyc.org
Running time: 70 minutes without an intermission