The main reason I adore live theatre, in comparison to other art forms like cinema, is that the fiber and ligaments that make up this thing we call life – truth, in other words – is best experienced live. The most dramatic, consequential moments of our lives are when we learn or tell a truth. The moment when an addict realizes she needs help; The moment when a husband asks his wife for a divorce; the moment when you realize someone you love will die. So much of our internal experience is invisible until it manifests itself as word and action. This is the ideal theatre – a theatre that extracts, with surgical precision, the deep truths that we hold inside us and that we desperately hope to keep inside. When the emotional dam bursts on stage, there is a certain transcendence that can only be described as holy, even if it is totally secular.
Why wax so poetic? Because Theatre Alliance’s stunning new production of Going to a Place where you Already Are epitomizes what live theatre is capable of when it is steered by visionary direction, populated with gorgeous scenic and lighting design, and animated by incredible actors.
Bekah Brunstetter’s script, which is now receiving its East Coast premiere, is both tight and poetic. The language is beautiful. going to a place is about cancer, death, bigotry… and it is hilarious. It is primarily to Brunstetter and Director Colin Hovde’s credit that this production is able to pull off the amazing hat trick of being an intense drama and a hilarious comedy at the same time.
Beyond the strong writing and direction, Going to a Place has an amazing cast. Annie Houston plays Roberta, an idealistic and deeply spiritual person who learns that she has cancer and decides not to pursue treatment. This is heartbreaking for her husband, Joe, played by Gregory Ford. Houston and Ford generate a special kind of chemistry on stage that is heartbreakingly authentic.
Meanwhile, Roberta and Joe’s granddaughter, Ellie, played by Tricia Homer, is a chain-smoking millennial who is also searching, in her own stumbling way, for some kind of bigger meaning in life. She is deeply affected by a romantic encounter with a paraplegic man named Jonas, played by MacGregor Arney. Finally, there is the Angel – played by Alan Naylor – who serves as a sort of emcee/spiritual guide for Roberta. There is also a big twist involving the Angel, which I could never reveal here, but which is absolutely breathtaking.
The scenic design of Going to a Place, by Brian Gillick, is unusual. It is not minimalist. The detail and customization provided for every scene change is astonishing for such a small theatre (where do they store this stuff?). But it isn’t Baroque, either… every scene leaves ample space for the actors to play in. It is almost as though they can traverse time and space with the same ease it takes to walk through a diner. An intriguingly painted stage floor also leaves ample potential for a hugely imaginative lighting design by Mary Keegan. Original music and sound design by Matthew M. Nielson provide a gentle ambient soundtrack to the production.
Going to a Place Where You Already Are is theatre at its best. It’s poetic, emotional, and it tells some big truths. Hilarious and tragic at the same time, and always with a heartbreaking authenticity, this is not a play to be missed. And Theatre Alliance has now firmly established itself as the East of the River theatre company. Go see this one, folks. And bring a lot of tissues.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Going to a Place Where You Already Are plays through June 26, 2016 at Theater Alliance performing at The Anacostia Playhouse – 2020 Shannon Place SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.
Review #1: ‘Going to a Place Where You Already Are’ at Theater Alliance by John Stoltenberg.