By JK Clarke
Plays that tackle broad philosophical conundrums don’t usually tell you they are doing so as explicitly as Mrs. Schrodinger’s Cat, a piecewritten and directed by Tasha Nicole Partee, running at this year’s New York International Fringe Festival. In this case it’s clear the core dilemma is a derivation of the early 20th century thought experiment named for Austrian physicist Ernst Schrodinger’s theoretical feline. Not too far removed from the famous posit about trees falling in forests, the question Schrodinger created (oversimplified here) was whether a cat sealed in box with a breakable flask of poison is actually alive or dead before the moment of the box being unsealed for the observer to discover the actual fact. It’s a problem often used in discussions of theories of quantum mechanics.
Mercifully, while some tenets of the source question remain, Mrs. Schrodinger’s Cat distills the problem down while adding moral and ethical components. The crux of the play concerns voyeurism. Set in a small town where single sixty-something Judith Shields (Eileen Howard) rents rooms to three righteous, deadbeat, yet very different sisters, it starts out as a story about gossipy, catty neighbors. But when they learn a local gallery will be having a show of photographs in which the photographer has captured, unbeknownst to the subject, his neighbors in the privacy of their own homes, panic sets in. Judith has been watching neighbors through binoculars in order to find inspiration for her surprisingly competitive senior citizens writing group. Howard makes the woefully naive Judith uproariously hilarious at times. Apparently inspired by the hit BDSM novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, she has decided to write about “masochism,” a subject she knows nothing about (“At first I thought it was hair color advice for old ladies.”) Hence the hopeful spying, which she fears has been captured by the phantom photographer.
Partee, who also directs, came across the idea of the voyeuristic artist after seeing Arne Svenson’s 2013, “The Neighbors,” an exhibition of photos taken through neighbors’ windows (which may in turn have been inspired by Gail Albert Halaban’s 2009 and 2012 series of staged peeping tom photos, “Out My Window”). The three sisters—comical, laissez-faire Tia (JC Sullivan), righteous and intellectual Delphine (Madigan Mayberry), and prim, religious Flannery (Amelia Huckel-Bauer)—effectively serve as differing viewpoints on the core ethical question. Though their roles are secondary, they provide a realistic look at a few of the various viewpoints the actual photographic exhibition stirred up.
Mrs. Schrodinger’s Cat has enormous potential. With editing and some reduction in scope (it probably tackles too many ethical questions) it could be a terrific Off-Broadway production. Though the otherwise very compelling storyline and philosophical problem occasionally goes astray, Partee’s dialog is sharp, witty and revealing. She has developed characters with depth that we want to know more about and she leaves hanging many questions that aren’t (and shouldn’t necessarily be) ultimately answered. Just like an exhibit of photos of subjects peered at through their windows, one leaves the theater thinking about multiple problems the play creates and wanting to know more about the characters. In my view, that’s a good thing.
Mrs. Schrodinger’s Cat has two remaining performances, (Today) Tuesday 8/23 at 2 PM and Friday 8/26 at 7PM as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at Fringe Venue #1: Teatro SEA at the Clemente (107 Suffolk Street, between Rivington and Delancey). For tickets go to www.fringenyc.org or www.fringeonthefly.com . For more information about the play go to www.mrsschrodingerscat.squarespace.com