The Singing Sphere
Like Samuel Beckett's work, the play captures a feeling of disconnect from reality with a sense of unfocussed longing.
There is a time within the sphere of human consciousness between fully awake and fully asleep. It is a place that the human mind cannot fully comprehend, and yet the mind is the source and participant in that liminality. So what does it all mean? Does it mean anything? Does anybody care?
The Singing Sphere by Marie Glancy O’Shea and directed by Ildiko Nemeth is a play about a place between waking and sleeping, or more precisely, between life and death. It is a story about seven women discovering and understanding a liminal place and a sense of the passage of time, seven women whose only connection to each other is this ill-defined environment.
The seven women of different ages, temperaments, and experiences are all grasping for something to give meaning to this moment. As a part of this discovery, they begin to interact with each other individually, in small groups, and finally, all together, attempting to make sense of their shared experience.
The play opens on an empty stage, diffusely lit with pastel-colored lighting that sometimes skirts the edge of gray. It is meant to, perhaps, represent an in-between space between life and death or truth and fiction. The idea that this space is an in-between place of the temporal and intemporal needs to be established, perhaps using a curtain of translucent fabric that must be transgressed to enter. In fact, the first character speaks of a veil that one passes through into this region; she mimes, touching and enveloping the veil as she enters. The lack of an actual veil is a problem since, without the physical barrier, one is left to imagine what is being encountered by the characters.
Liv (Sam Flynn) is a creative writer and seeker of understanding. She is also not exactly what she appears to be. She will provide us with her story as she writes and speaks her thoughts. Belem (Gina Bonati) ran a women’s shelter. She is competent, organized, and obsessively examines the nature of good and bad and its role in conscience. Mags (Lisa Giobbi) is a wisecracking optimist who refuses to accept the darker sides of life. She is the conversational partner to Belem. Together they form the foundation that helps make sense of where they have found each other. Bonati and Giobbi do an excellent job inhabiting their characters in tangible and impactful ways so the audience feels the dichotomy of their clarity and confusion.
While the show centers on these three characters. Liv is the chronicler of the various interactions within the mysterious space, but it is unclear how she does it since there is no paper or pencil. However, her observations are important in explaining some of the other characters’ actions. Flynn’s performance is sometimes too ethereal for some of the depicted actions as if the writer is lost in a disconnected creative thought.
The remaining four characters fill out the play’s structure, each bringing a particular element through their experiences. Blanka (Danielle Aziza) is a young idealistic athlete damaged by life. Ruth (Michelle Best) is a TV personality who embraces the toxic masculinity of autocrats and sees sympathy and a broad perspective of humanity as signs of weakness. Tatyana Kot, as Miriam, is the personification of grief. She is a mother from a war in which she lost her only child and presumably her own life. And then there is Sonia Villani, as the Sequined Entertainer, a musician, comedian, gossiper, and storyteller; all rolled up in one. She is the bright flash of color and an instigator of action.
O’Shea captures the avant-garde style of Samuel Beckett, a feeling of disconnect from reality with a sense of unfocussed longing and the ever-present passage of time. However, the thing about Beckett is that his work is an acquired taste that most people do not understand or appreciate. You either like it or not, which is the case with The Singing Sphere.
O’Shea attempts to “paint a many-dimensional, pulsating portrait of feminine energy as a force of constant renewal.” Each character exposes confusion about who she is, where she is, and, most importantly, why she thinks she is in this space. The layers that each character’s story adds to the overall structure of the play produce a complexity that is both intriguing and off-putting. It is Beckettian in the sense that the immediate reaction is “What was that about?”
I left with questions about what I had just experienced. It was not a feeling of dismissal but one of consideration for the experience. It was and is not a question of good or bad but whether it works or not as a play. The average theatergoer thinks Waiting for Godot or Endgame are bad plays because understanding them is not readily accessible. While The Singing Sphere is not an easy play to engage with, I think it does work, but it is for a select audience.
Other elements of the production design that add definition to the play are the lighting design by Federico Restrepo, original music by Steven Wallace and Muriel Louveau and interpreted by sound creator-designer Shyamal Maitra, and finally, Attila Patkos’ sound direction.
The Singing Sphere (through May 12, 2023)
The New Stage Theatre Company
The New Stage Performance Space, 36 West 106th Street (basement), in Manhattan
For tickets, visit https://app.promotix.com/events/details/TheSingingSphere-tickets
Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission
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