That’s it? A bench… It’s –hollow…It doesn’t even sound like they’re talking about her. Is this all they’re going to do? Is this it?
This is thesorrowful young Ruby’s exclamation during the memorial for her college classmate Lottie who was killed in Afghanistan while she was interning at an international agency in playwright Emily Daly’s fragmentary drama #yourmemorial. Ms. Daly’s poignant premise has potential and her well drawn characters are appealing but a preoccupation with stylistic techniques undermines the play’s effectiveness. The nonlinear structure, repetitiousness and vagueness are wearying.
It’s graduation day at an unnamed college in 2012 and valedictorian Elizabeth Delaney “but everybody calls me Lottie” delivers an address peppered with aspirational platitudes and simplistic references to 9/11. This speech and the following situation gets repeated several times with variations. Prior to this, Lottie encounters and engages with fellow classmate Ruby. The two have never had much to do with each other and there’s a contrast. Lottie is a shrewd upper-middle class overachiever and Ruby is an introspective wanderer.
A year later while perusing Facebook, Ruby learns of Lottie’s death from a military action and is devastated, though the two were never actually close. An oddly under dramatized dynamic is the law school character of Jim, a bright, ambitious and sympathetic young man who was Lottie’s boyfriend and has since became Ruby’s nurturing romantic partner. Also in the mix is the fiery pragmatic class conscious striving journalist Carolyn who went to school with the trio. Daly presents these four interesting Lanford Wilson-type figures enmeshed in a possibly compelling The Big Chill-style scenario but strives for non-traditional storytelling. The politics of U.S. foreign intervention are threaded throughout.
“We want to give theater artists the chance to make the work they want to make, not the work the industry tells them they should be making” is how the theater company Pigeonholed which presents #yourmemorial describes their mission. “We want to get unstuck, to find our own unique ways to use theater to engage with the world around us.” Some might find these noble sentiments fulfilled by this schematic work while others could be left wanting a more straightforwardly realized treatment of the subject matter.
Meredith Starkman is quite captivating as Lottie and as a variety of briefly seen characters. Ms. Starkman totally conveys Lottie’s idealism with her sunny performance. Sasha Lazare skillfully balances moroseness with liveliness as she conveys Ruby’s fluctuating mental states. Most impressive is the youthful, animated and passionate John Dewey as Jim. Mr. Dewey’s intensity and everyman presence energizes the play. The luminous Esmeralda Garza relishes Carolyn’s treachery yet goes beyond caricature with her full-blooded and bewitching characterization.
The black-accented stage has a raised runway platform, a square platform, a bench and some furniture. From these basic elements, scenic designer Susannah Hyde crafts an ideal landscape for this non-realistic piece that allows its times and locations to shift smoothly. Ms. Hyde’s outstanding projection design of social media imagery and illustrative photos is shown on the stage’s back wall.
Resourcefully working on a minimalist level, director Emily Lyon achieves fluidity, some lovely stage pictures and the fine performances with her inspired staging. Sammy Jelinek’s dreamy lighting design and Carsen Joenk’s beating sound design contribute to an otherworldly dimension.
From graduation caps and gowns to business attire and jeans and plaid shirts, costume designer Sera Bourgeau finds just the right look for each character with her spot-on selections.
#yourmemorial contains a number of moving and haunting sequences that are embedded in its arguably strained format.
#yourmemorial (through May 26, 2019)
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.pigeonholedtheater.org
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission