by Alix Cohen
Steeplechase begins with the sound man on a bare stage regulating techno-pop by laptop, the first of many why moments in a self-indulgent chronicle of, is it, redemption? Next we see the cast moving to his music, each in his/her own axis. Uh huh. Then, two rows of chairs facing one another, actors passive while the heroine stumbles between. Sound design might indicate the Coney Island ride for which the piece was named. If so, what of actors’ expressionless presence?
Viv (Ariel Lauryn-the only credible actor on stage) is a bisexual, alcohol, and drug addict who submits to and/or throws herself at men declaring toxic qualities with pride. (The female relationship of which we catch a glimpse portrays healthier choice.) Even when better situations are depicted, Viv looks so much like someone at the raw end of street subsistence, it’s impossible to believe she appeals. This is especially true of the solid, straight man with whom the young woman finally stops spiraling.
To spend an entire play with a character who garners zero sympathy, about whom we have next to no information, is not engaging. The piece has no arc, its heroine no redeeming qualities besides intellect. What is Chris Nelson trying to say besides that was then this is now. “I’ve had a wild life and vivid imagination,” Viv declares breaking the fourth wall, “You have to decide which is which.”
Serial relationships erupt and abort along a path of concerted self-destruction breaking only for a 9/11 flashback that affects her deeply. Was that the beginning of this behavior? Why? A psychiatrist comes and goes in futile, poorly articulated effort to help. There’s lots of unfeeling sex. Viv’s mother literally climbs over the audience to berate her in what we gather is a familiar pattern. Too little too late.
Playwright Chris Nelson is clearly smart. Parentheses emerge sharp, insightful and honest. As theater, however, her attempt at exorcism fails. We never understand why the protagonist is in the state she’s in and frankly don’t care.
Director Maridee Slater can’t seem to make up her mind between absurd abstraction/ black comedy and ugly, kitchen sink confrontation.
High points: The psychiatrist has a memorable laugh. There’s an amusing, inflated, upper body suit. Delivery of a baby depicts the obstetrician playing Hasbro’s battery-powered game Operation while our incipient mother wails beside him. Initial coupling is almost balletic, physical slaps thoroughly believable. (Anna Reichert-Intimacy Coach/ Choreographer)
Photos by Benjamin Heller
New York Theater Festival’s Summerfest presents
Steeplechase by Chris Nelson
Directed by Maridee Slater
Hudson Guild Theater 441 West 26 Street
August 23, 25