By Marcina Zaccaria

Touring the New York City waterways can make one feel elated. Viewing the stunning footage of large expanses of waterways and maps, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the larger infrastructure connecting parts of New York City. While some become fascinated with the area near the Brooklyn Bridge or the Roosevelt Island Tram, the steadfast team behind Hart Island—running through April 6 at The Gym at Judson—rounds us through a longer circuit of islands before arrival at a sorrowful destination.

James Foster Jr., Jimmy Crowell II, David Samuel, Tracy Weller, Daniel Kublick, Julie Asriyan, Nora Cole

In the first half of this multimedia presentation, the audience can get lost in an explorer’s dreamland. In the imagination of the historian and the artist, so much is possible in the great City of New York. The human being is revealed as so much greater than the lands that they might traverse. Video/ Projection Designer Yana Biryukova keeps the images flowing quickly, allowing the screen to pause on an enlarged profile. While island after island is exposed, story after story emerges. Billed as a theatrical meditation, the play includes statistics, making the primary text a calculated study of land and people, packed with numbers rather than names. As the show progresses, it is revealed that Hart Island, also known as Potter’s Field, is a true “last stop,” a place where the prisoners from Rikers Island dig graves for those who can’t afford a burial.

James Foster Jr.

When that is revealed, this drama performed at the Gym at Judson in Greenwich Village, feels part documentary, part group healing. The human face projected in profile on the back wall reads so large that we are asked to dig deep to empathize with the notion of longing. Actors who appear on stage are never really dehumanized; rather, they are so full of sorrow that they never emerge with joyful expectation. They seem to carry something greater than the revelation that mortality is so fragile.

Julie Asriyan, Nora Cole, Jimmy Crowell II, James Foster Jr., Daniel Kublick, David Samuel, and Tracy Weller deliver their stories mostly unamplified. The microphone cuts through from time to time, with the names of the places that are so important, and Sound Designer Philip Carluzzo is so sensitive to the crashing of the tides, careful not to take over the moment with the rising dynamic underscoring the human voice. 

Julie Asriyan

After making entrances from all parts of the stage, the actors prove to be an ensemble of careful listeners. The larger question that looms over their monologues seems to be, “why are we here?” While they recognize each other’s strength of humanity, they can’t seem to conquer the larger struggle of how the body might take safe passage through such a difficult city. Their emotional tone is one of withholding, rather than expression, and the narrator in the booth on the microphone practices a presentational awareness, noting the slow-paced rhythm of their ghostly walks near almost muddy waters. Then, the digging begins again. 

Hart Island. Through April 9 at The Gym at Judson (243 Thompson Street, at Washington Square South in Greenwich Village, NYC).

Photos: Maria Baranova