By Beatrice Williams-Rude
Touch, written by Toni-Press Coffman, is a play about transcendent love, soul-searing loss, and the many modes of mourning.
The work opens with, Kyle, the protagonist, telling his life story, holding forth alone on stage for easily an hour. Mostly it’s about his fascination with astronomy and his love for Zoë, and the miracle that she loves him.
Kyle is an intellectual who’s been pursuing science since grade school. Zoë, a free-spirit, looks at the sky through the lens of astrology. Kyle notes that he could always get a rise out of her by referring to “ the big bang” theory, which she couldn’t/wouldn’t accept.
We see a flashback of the night Zoe disappeared in which Kyle’s best friend, perhaps only friend, Benny, and Serena, Zoë’s sister, appear. Zoë wanted to make a special drink that required whipping cream and popped out to an all-night market to get it, but didn’t return.
First there was the uncertainty, the excruciatingly unnerving uncertainty. At one point Kyle was a suspect in Zoë’s disappearance and presumed murder. Eventually we learn that Zoë was raped and murdered; two men were involved. It’s how the trio copes between the time of the disappearance and the finding of the body, and then the apprehension of the perpetrators that occupies the second half of the work.
The title of the play refers to Kyle’s reluctance to being touched following his devastating loss. There is humor in his exchange with a prostitute questioning how one can have sex and yet not be touched. Kyle and the prostitute, Kathleen, talk and somehow connect. He manages to get her interested in astronomy.
All the astronomical references are correct, according to the astronomer seated to my left. They are so well explained that not only does Kathleen comprehend, but the audience does as well.
When Benny learns that Kyle has been seeing a prostitute he is appalled, as is Serena, Zoe’s sister. Kyle is equally appalled when he discovers that Benny and Serena, seeking solace from one another,have been having an affair since shortly after Zoë’s disappearance. Yet, who is to judge another’s mourning mechanism?
There is an exquisitely directed moment when Kyle tentatively puts out his hand to Kathleen who slowly extends hers to him. Brilliant white light illuminates the slow-motion actions referencing the outstretched hands of God and Adam in the Sistine Chapel.
This is a play for grown-ups and not those who have attention-deficit disorder. It runs for two hours and fifteen minutes with a ten-minute intermission.
The splendid cast consists of Pete McElligott (Kyle), who carries the play for the first half, and whose subtle, nuanced, always interesting performance is prize-worthy; Amadeo Fusca, who creates a warm, loving Benny; Emily Batsford is Serena, Zoe’s devoted sister; and Katrina Lenk, whose Kathleen the prostitute, is really Kyle’s rescuing angel.
When the performers drop their voices there are sometimes audibility problems, particularly in those sections of the theater to which the performer is not facing.
The excellent director is Nathaniel Shaw. The spare but effective set is by Craig Napoliello; appropriate lighting is by Carl Wiemann. Original music and sound design is by Julian Evans.
The playwright has expertly crafted a work using astronomy to both define the protagonist’s life and help him cope with death by lifting him above the terrestrial here and now.
It is being presented by the Libra Theater Company at 59e59 Theaters where officially opens Aug. 24, and run through Sept. 4.
Photos by Nikhil Saboo