NY Theater Review By Marcina Zaccaria
Escape from Circle 8, inspired by Dante’s “Inferno,” written by Sarah Lawrence, opened on October 31st at the Soho Playhouse.
The play takes place in a Tijuana cantina. Three performers share the stage. Laura Siner (Oberon Theatre Ensemble’s American Rapture) plays The Woman, a lawyer lost in Tijuana. Sydney Mei Ruf-Wong (Color at Theater for the New City) plays the Bar Denizen, and Aaron Schwartz is the guitarist, who also plays Pedro. Playwright Sarah Lawrence has a lot to say about Tijuana in the production. Lawrence’s first play, Liberty, won the Southern Playwright’s Award and was produced in Jacksonville, Alabama as well as the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Lawrence also wrote The King & Me, a satire about Elvis cult worship.
Lawrence seeks to describe the hell of Tijuana in the play. Billed as an immersive theater experience, the audience at Soho Playhouse sit around small tables with folding chairs. There is a fully functioning bar in the space. Performers walk back and forth during the production, but never mingle directly.
Laura Siner as La Senora or The Woman, tells her tale about Tijuana. She is the only performer with spoken text in the show. In monologue after monologue, she describes her relationships with people and the work she does for the bar. Music performance, mostly used as a tone setter, is a bit uneven throughout the performance. Guitar solos include “Danse Macabre” and “Laura’s Lament,” written by performer Aaron Schwartz.
Monologue after monologue define The Woman’s Tijuana nightmare. Her descent into the underworld is filled with anger and rage. Siner struggles throughout the play. With a drink in her hand, and words that don’t so much sting but ring true for the actor, Siner explains again that she is the lawyer for the bar. The Bar Denizen shares the drama and the struggle with her.
The performance ends with a string solo of “Lacrimosa” by W.A. Mozart. The lead actress, now infirmed, is carried to a bed. Seated next to a wall with a shawl full of sculls covering a crucifix, she continues to tell her story. She looks into three boxes where light emerges. The Woman carefully opens each box before making a dedication. It is a stunningly different image than in the beginning of the show, where she questions the difference between Tijuana and NYC, sitting at a table, admiring trinkets from New York.
Basic Lighting Design by James Stewart highlights the performer, and keeps the audience slightly lit. Costumes by Nicholas Staigerwald include a textured green camisole, covered by a cardigan. Scenic Design, created by Jak Prince, includes a stripper pole, a bed covered with blankets, and small, wooden boxes.
Escape from Circle 8, directed by Todd Conner, is playing at Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, in Manhattan. The show opened on Friday, October 31st and the final performance is on Sunday, November 23rd. Tickets for Escape from Circle 8 are $18 and can be purchased online at http://goo.gl/ftIUXz.