by Michael Bracken
Best known for her recurring role as Rachel Heineman on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Iris Bahr is also a writer to be reckoned with. Her latest solo effort, I Lost You There, is back at the Cherry Lane Theatre Studio Space where it had a week run in May. She plays a number of vivid characters, all connected in some way to Isabel, the woman at the center of the show.
Bahr keeps her characters wonderfully life-sized, never overplaying or overwriting them. Her low-key performance keeps it real.
Her subtlety turns out to be a double-edged sword, however. When a character appears, we’re not always sure, at least not at first, whether it’s a new character or one we’ve seen before. And when she plays men, it takes a while to realize they’re men and not mannish women.
We meet Isabel at the top of the show and see her again at the end. We learn about her from these snapshots and, to a limited extent, glean information from her mother and her one-time boyfriend. She’s clearly a giving person, perhaps too much so in that you could call her codependent with regard to both mother and boyfriend.
It’s her mother that has the clearest through line to Isabel. She sends email regularly about her trip to Europe, describing places like London and the Isle of Man. We get a sense of her in small but potent doses.
Every few minutes, Bahr turns to face the audience, and a stillness prevails. Becoming Isabel’s mother, she starts with “Dear Isabel” and then recites that day’s email. Mostly they’re short, shorter than the other characters’ monologues, and they’re simple. Mom also tells Isabel she should stop thinking about her terrible vegan boyfriend: “He doesn’t deserve you.”
They are the most emotionally compelling bits in the piece. We accept a mother’s love for her daughter as a given. Every once in a while, we’re thrown a curve, as when Mom unexpectedly tells Isabel she’s enjoying London more than she did when she went there with her husband. And there’s more where that came from.
On the other end of the spectrum is Kevin, the boyfriend Isabel’s mother excoriates. He sends a video from India, describing a sexual encounter with a beautiful, diminutive Indian girl. His tale is exotic, colorful, and passionate, before becoming dark and desperate. It’s hard not to conclude that Isabel’s mother was right.
The set for the show is simple: nothing but the floor, a stool, and a number of outfits (one for each character) hanging behind the playing area the way clothes would hang in a storefront window. Each ensemble is lit according to whom Bahr is portraying at the moment. The garments are a nice touch, giving a visual identity to each character. Rachel Schapira gets credit for “Sculptural Costumes.”
Asa Lipton’s soft lighting adds to the intimacy of the evening. Andrew Russell’s direction is straightforward; he respects Bahr’s artistry and lets her do her thing.
I Lost You There is more humorous than funny. There are no brilliant zingers or laugh-out-loud one liners. But there is a somewhat sophisticated comic sensibility that expresses itself in observations that, once you let them sink in, result in a smile or a chuckle.
The show touts itself as being about death, which is certainly a major theme. To me, however, it seemed more about life and the simple/complicated webs we weave as we negotiate our relationships with each other. At a scant sixty-five minutes, it ends abruptly, but then again, life often does the same.
Through October 14, 2017, at the Cherry Lane Theatre Studio Space (38 Commerce Street). https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/10207017. 65 minutes with no intermission.