by Beatrice Williams-Rude
A new work by Swedish wunderkind Jonas Hassen Khemiri and produced by Origin Theatre Company, The Hundred We Are, has opened at The Cell March 21. (The play’s translator for this production is Frank Perry.)
A surreal, phantasmagorical piece, it deals with ageing, missed opportunities, trying to reclaim and relive one’s youth, the vagaries of memory and the lies we we tell ourselves to make life bearable.
Three women of different ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities as well as “Shadow”—who could be seen as a Greek chorus—constitute the splendid cast. The Greek chorus-esque Shadow figure was a device brought in by director Erwin Maas, with the author’s approval, and is unique to this production.
The title refers to the multiplicity of personalities reflecting the times of our lives: our experiences, ambitions, hopes—realized or thwarted, including business, romantic and familial—and our interactions with others.
The play’s production is stark, making director Maas’s work particularly difficult and praiseworthy.
Characters are not listed by name but as Actress 1, Actress 2 and Actress 3. The three women’s disparate lives, dreams and desires converge. The young radical, Actress 1, trying to heal the world’s wounds and writing revolutionary poetry, could also been seen in Freudian terms as the id of “middle-aged” Actress 2.
Actress 3 represents old age and how we cope with dementia. Hers are the final words: “All we have to do is forget how to sit and forget how the world works. All we have to do is take our last steps. All we have to do is say our last words. All we have to do is die.” But this is a memory play, so harken to what precedes it.
The Hundred We Are is a difficult work, one for theater aficionados. It is thought-provoking and requires intense concentration. All the performers take on multiple roles, crossing genders and sexual orientation. It is a dark play but there are comic moments, much of which is gallows humor, one might say. And yes, in fact, there’s even a gallows in the play.
Actress 1 is portrayed by the fiery and funny (indeed there are laughs) Mirirai Sithole. Actress 2, is the profoundly moving Orlagh Cassidy. And Actress 3 is played by the deeply affecting Kitty Chen. Shadow is effectively performed by Caitlin Cisco.
The excellent lighting design by Derek Van Heel and technical design by Jack Gilliat showed images of what we were seeing but from a different angle. The sound level, thanks to Sam La Farge, was perfect for the venue and the ears. The costumes, by Jenny Green effectively reflect the playwright’s intentions: the three actresses wear identical “uniforms,” indicating their interchangeable and universal nature.
The Hundred We Are. Through April 8 at The Cell (338 West 23rd Street,between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). www.origintheatre.org. Box Office: 866-811-4111.
Photos by: Garlia Cornelia Jones-Ly (main article) & Derek Van Heel (feature/splash image)