The George Washington University Department of Theatre and Dance is presenting the world premiere of Vanishing Point. This production has a clear purpose well beyond providing students the opportunity to display their theatrical skills before a live audience.
Vanishing Point is a drama that “allows the audience to view anorexia completely separately from popular culture and whispered gossip and instead see the personal struggle and healing of a teenage girl,” wrote Dramaturg Marcelene Sutter in her program notes.
It has been a multi-year journey to adapt the verse fiction of Jeri Kroll’s Vanishing Point for the stage. For adapter and veteran director Leslie Jacobson, George Washington University faculty member, and multiple Helen Hayes Award nominee for direction, it has been a very dedicated effort. Vanishing Point has had local workshops, and was seen in an earlier version at a Kennedy Center “Page-to-Stage” event. The version now at stage at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre includes Roy Barber’s original music.
“There are things that theatre can do by giving body as well as voice to characters in a story – which transform emotions, ideas, and other insubstantial but powerful forces, into concrete and defined beings onstage.” noted Jacobson in her program notes.
Author Jeri Kroll is at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, a Professor of English and Creative Writing. In her author’s statement, she wrote that Vanishing Point asks the question, “How do you learn to be comfortable in your own body?” The work from which the play has been adapted was written as a verse novel. It is narrative poetry, with multiple narrators, and changing perspectives. For Kroll, “plot and character drive a story forward, but poetry enhances its dept. Since poetry is an oral as well as a written medium too, it translates well to the stage.”
The George Washington Department of Theatre and Dance’s production puts the audience inside the head and heart of Diana, a young woman growing up with the demon of self-destructive anorexia and bulimia within her. She wants to reduce herself to a ‘vanishing point’ of existence. For this adaptation, it is as if the audience is reading Diana’s diary. At times the production is a torrent of panicked words. Other moments the audience is in the midst of silences punctuated by stylistic movements.
No quick summary of “Vanishing Point” will do it justice. Marketing material describe the show as exploring “the interior and exterior life of Diana, a nineteen year old girl living in South Australia. She struggles with the question tormenting many young people today: How do you learn to be comfortable in your own body?” Surrounding Diana is “a demanding father, a mother who dabbles in charismatic religion, and a brother with Down syndrome.” How can Diana not feel pressured to be the family savior?
The ten member cast is composed of emerging talent. They are up to the challenge of a world premiere. They are adept at giving life to their characters, even those who are well beyond the actors’ chronological ages or written as archetypes. There is plenty to admire in this performance of dialogue, movement, and music. The technical production aspects of set, lighting, sound and props are effective in providing the moods of scenes.
Some prominent performances include Angelina Hoidra, a GW junior in her first Mainstage production. She plays the appealing central character, Diana. As Diana, Hoidra voices that she is over-weight standing 5’6″ while weighing 140 pounds. Kait Haire, another GW junior, is Diana’s negative alter-ego always in sight. She is the dark moon with a “you deserve to starve” attitude. The edgy Haire is regularly egging-on Hoidra to become more “a profile like a taper”.
Several other character provide glimmers of love, friendship or comfort. Sam Game, a recent GW graduate, is Connor a young man who falls for Diana. He nails his character as a sensitive boy in over his head; constantly asking what has he has done wrong to cause Diana’s illness. Jordan Kaye, a senior in her first Mainstage performance, is a delight in two characters. In Act I she is Clara a teen horse-lover who gives Diana hints of friendship with the love for riding. Kaye is also a hoot of a chipper nurse in Act II. Victoria Nelman-Vigo, a senior, is a spot -on official sounding Dr. Head, but one with a heart as she tries to repair the damage she sees. It is Neiman-Vigo who suggests that viewing pictures of Holocaust victims might give Diana character another visual viewpoint of what starving looks like. Alexandria Taliaferro, a junior, who gives nuance to the character of a 70-year old woman with a deep caring heart.
The production does have its share of shortcomings. The adaptation has an awkwardness to it; there is a jumble of 1st and 3rd person narrative. In scenes, characters will speak of themselves both as “me” and “she” in the same breath. It is if there was once to be a narrator and that concept was discarded. The piano music is too often of such a similar rhythm and tonality, that it becomes like a dripping like a faucet in the night. Almost oppressive. As a means to convey pain and discomfort it is successful up to a point and then tips over into “too much.” For more joyful moments, an additional instrument to give wing to the happiness emotions and take care of the piano score’s sameness. With overly-deliberate pacing through most of the production, things are wrapped up rather hurriedly in the second act. A semblance of self-awareness about “who will be the boss of me” comes to Diana in a rapid manner.
One particular note about the characters of Diana’s parent as written. They are written as exceedingly unsympathetic. They are the heart of darkness in the drama. There is the mother (Erin Jones, a senior) reaching out for explanations from God for life’s travails, seeking solace in faith. She is Job in her own way, but one who wishes to have darkness as her friend. The father (Andrew Flurer, a senior) purposely loses himself in work. He has no patience for home life. He is played as overburdened and overwhelmed.
Vanishing Point aims for the heart. George Washington University delivers a touching, earnest production.
Vanishing Point plays continue tomorrow. October 18, 2014 at 7:30 PM and Sunday, October 19, 2014 at 2 PM at The George Washington University’s Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre – 800 21st Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 994-0995, or purchase them online.