A multi-layered, imaginatively staged work that conflates the superficial vagaries of fashion with the internal emotional lives of its colorful characters.
By Joel Benjamin
Talk about the objectification of women! In Sheila Callaghan’s Everything You Touch, at the intimate Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village, three rail-thin women literally become objects: beds, night-tables, headlights, bookstands, etc. It’s imaginative, but vaguely unsettling.
Everything You Touch at first seems to be devoted to the superficial whims of fashion. In fact, these three young beauties are first seen modeling extravagantly avant-garde designs by the character Victor Cavanaugh (Christian Coulson). It soon becomes clear, however, that Everything has a more poetic theme: love in all its forms—love of art, sexual love, parental love (here disastrously distorted), and sweet, adoring love. Told in chronological order, the plot would be the stuff of soap operas: love affairs, possible incest and wholesale upheavals of lives. Ms. Callaghan chose to fragment the storyline by switching back and forth between the 1970s and the present, allowing the audience to see the cause and effect of all the psychological fragility under the fashionable—and not so fashionable—façades.
Victor, a wiry, handsome ex-pat Brit, has a muse/lover, Esme (Tonya Glanz), a sleek, passionate creature who inspires his visions of complex layered feathered outfits, so outrageous that no woman could ever really wear them. Soon Esme is replaced by the girlish, but scheming southerner, Louella (Lisa Kitchens) who turns Victor into a successful middle of the road designer. Esme leaves in a huff, revealing she is pregnant with Victor’s child. And where is she running off to? Ironically, to Louella’s Little Rock apartment effectively changing places with her nemesis. Esme’s child turns out to be Jess.
In the present time, shlumpy, overweight Jess (Miriam Silverman) communes with her best bud and work-mate, Lewis (Robbie Tan) who has a puppy dog crush on her. She expresses a fantasy of meeting a sexy skinny guy and spending lots of time in bed with him. Who does she meet? Victor, of course, which eventually leads to a surreal road trip to Little Rock to visit her dying mother (Esme). On this trip Victor re-makes Jess with a multi-layered outfit topped by a tight bustier, a leopard-themed coat and very high heels. Whether the clothing makes the woman or not is made obvious in the last half-hour of Everything You Touch (which could easily lose a half hour from its running time).
The physical production almost overwhelms the Ms. Callaghan’s storytelling. The set, by Francois-Pierre Couture, with light grey paneled walls full of niches was too amorphous, often placing the action in indistinct never-lands. Especially strange and unnecessary was the added imagery of mannequin body parts spread about. The extremely complex costumes, from the animal themed dresses to the middle-of-the-road later designs to Jess’s sloppy jeans and loose shirt tops, were brilliant and were created by Jenny Foldenauer. Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting gave depth and detail.
Jessica Kubzansky’s direction made the most of the play and the actors with Ms. Silverman a stand out and the only character to address the audience directly. Mr. Coulson is physically perfect and agile. In the small part of the ardent Lewis, Robbie Tan seems like a visitor from planet normal amidst all the totally self-involved creatures.
The play’s impact is blunted by its length and by the distractingly vexing questions it raises. Did Jess and Victor actually commit incest, or was this affair all in Jess’s imagination? How could Louella have such an influence over Victor? How did Victor and Esme keep there boutique going?
It’s worth a visit to the Village to see the extraordinary production of this sometimes mystifying play.
*Photos: Joan Marcus
Everything You Touch – January 28 – March 29, 2015
Cherry Lane Theater
38 Commerce St., between Bedford St. & Barrow St.
Greenwich Village, New York, NY
Tickets and Information: OvationTix at 866-811-4111 or www.rattlestick.org
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, one intermission