The Hyacinth Girl and Other Broken Images – Chasedland
Going to The Hyacinth Girl and Other Broken Images at Towson University last night both inspired and depressed me. Inspired because there is just so much fucking potential in this town, hiding in little theaters, doing it’s graduate program, about to sprout like tenacious weeds all up on the Baltimore theater scene. Depressed because I know, no matter how I try to deny, that I will never again be able to create theater as young and fresh and alive. I’m too cranky, this cat is too grumpy, and I’ll never see 23 again. That’s okay though, as long as my blood still stirs at awesome work, I consider myself pretty damned lucky. Girl is the brainchild of Leah Englund Brick, another MFA candidate at Towson (I must be on a list). It turns away from a straightforward narrative and instead creates a hyptertext out of fragments of other work: T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland is in there, Crome Yellow from Aldous Huxley, Antony and Cleaopatra, some Greek myths and even a few lines of Baudelaire. These bits are strung together with new dialogue to loosely inform small vignettes: a woman (Rebecca Clendaniel) gives birth to a still born child, another (Valerie Stine) worries how to tell her husband that there will be a sixth, and yet another (Elizabeth Scollan) tosses and turns, locked in a memory she can’t find her way out of. An exotic dancer (Katharine Airyan) smokes nervously and waits for a man that will never come, a young girl (Kelly Hutchinson) visits a predatory fortune teller. Threaded through these scenes a mysterious figure, a Sybil (Magalie Chenet-Smith), guides us gently, her eyes confrontational even as her body speaks defeat. It’s arresting to hear the dialogue of these old, dead, white men sound so vital. These guys wrote of loneliness, of isolation, of the desolation of the human condition, sure, but somehow, I don’t think they really meant to include women’s troubles (especially those Greeks). Men’s problems are always seen as larger, more universal, more epic. Brick’s appropriation of these insanely beautiful words, words that slide over you and caress you and make you deeply sad, for use in women’s secret rooms, their backstage, if you will, is genius. The direction is stirring with fierce, determined, sculptural movement from a team of steel-faced, liquid-boned actors. There were a few moments that really burned in that good kind of way. These women aren’t weak, but the world did break them, and the motivated staging hits you with this reality over and over again. One changes in a shadow behind a paper screen while another does a jerky, puppet-like dance after being used like a stained mattress. A gorgeous movement piece at the beginning looks exactly like insomnia feels, a man fucks a woman who is lit as whitely as a corpse. And ink, simply run with water, make the walls themselves look like they are crying. The cast is excellent, extremely focused and, if I might add, all just fucking beautiful. I especially twigged to Clendaniel, whose blank, terribly hurt face sears right through you, and Chenet-Smith, who is down but not out, sucking up other people’s woes like an unfortunate sponge. She’s angry and sad and resigned and it’s amazing. Scollan is exciting to watch, she’s one of those people your eyes keep getting drawn to when she’s on stage (I believe they used to call that a presence). And Airyan has an murderous edge about her, you get the feeling that she might have danced just a little too close to the flame of male entitlement just a little too often and it might have left her scored and empty. The set and lighting (also Brick, who appears to be an overachiever) is as thoughtful as everything else and the costumes, neutral, vaguely 1930ish dresses in dusty, very early spring sky colors, are a Pinterest delight.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Hyacinth Girl and Other Broken Images isn’t an easy thing to digest, it makes you work a little for it, and that’s a good thing. Academic yet engaging, it draws you in without making you feel like you need an open tab of Wikipedia (“famous authors and poets”) up to appreciate it. The show embodies the kind of mournful, regretful, nostalgic beauty that you feel, just for a second, when all the snow melts away you know what’s past has really passed. I liked it and, what’s more important, I’ll remember it. Superb work.
Running at Towson University Center for the Arts until April 18th.
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