By Marilyn Lester
Never experienced an acid trip? Curious? Then the theatrical piece, I Am., is for you. Running, 45 minutes, I Am. is a jumble of ideas and actions of the nightmarish kind. It’s a bad trip for sure for those looking for enlightenment, drug-induced or not. In reality it’s a pastiche of expressionism that has its characters spew platitudes like so many paint balls splattering the walls. The creator of this work is Stacy Lynn Gould (who also directs with a rather heavy hand) who rests I Am. on the wisdom of author Paulo Coelho, who writes in The Alchemist: “Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.” Unfortunately, much of this intention is lost in translation as an ensemble of five actors tries to make sense of that which they speak.
SHE, played by Lauren Hendon, spends much of the work silently emoting in various dark corners of the stage. Were it not for a faintly glowing orb she holds throughout, SHE would be easy to completely ignore. Hendon is also the composer and lyricist of folk-based music used to bookend I Am. and which provides some texture during its 45 minutes. At least in Hendon’s songs we’re aware that she exists despite having no interaction with the action of the play as it unfolds.
Hope Anne Wonder, presumably the alter ego of SHE, is played by the somnambulant Amber Lagemen with little affect or passion, despite being decked out like a Christmas tree in a lit chemise. Like SHE, she’s barely there too, but not in a way that’s intentional. Hope’s guide, Volonte Choice, is handled competently by Margot Dale. Volonté in French means will or willpower, so the assumption is that the character is a higher self of SHE/Hope who possesses the power to freely make life choices. Dale’s dialogue, however, fails to genuinely support the higher calling that such a guide might provide to a seeker. Dale is also billed as Assistant Choreographer, although no credit is given for a choreographer; ostensibly that’s Gould. But the derivative stylized movement of I Am. offers little creative relief throughout the overall work.
Playing multiple roles were Courtney Megaro and Aleksandr Krapivkin, who are meant to be the fears and other dark forces tormenting Hope’s psyche. Megaro, as Shadow 1: Akin Mahbonz, Akleeshay, Mr. Chalk and Woo-da, gamely goes along with the many costume changes undertaken in the set piece of a framed tee pee structure (the only set component on the otherwise bare stage). Krapivkin, as Shadow 2: Effo Lee, Greedenen Vee, Mr. Crow and Shoo-da, found a way to get into the prosaicisms he must speak and consequently seems to be having fun with his various roles. His enthusiasm and energy is in such stark contrast to the ensemble of female actors that his efforts sometimes seem jarring as he jolted life into his portions of the work.
René Descartes famously postulated, “Cogito ergo sum,” or: I think, therefore I am. His argument was that thought alone guarantees the fact of existence, but nothing more––so beyond this rudimentary knowing there’s no real certainty of what’s true or not. Gould is very far from being the only one to explore this philosophical nugget to try to sort out the meaning of life. But as it stands now, I Am. is an embryo of an idea that can stand much more maturity of thought and playwriting skill to bring it to term as a mature and meaningful piece of interpretive stage work.
Photos: Russ Rowland
I Am. played on July 13 and July 14 at 59E59 Theater C as part of the East to Edinburgh series.