Looking at the stars is looking at the past: “Chosen Child”

http://www.bu.edu/bpt/files/2014/10/2014-10-29-CHOSEN_CHILD_035.jpg

Photograph credit: Kalman Zabarsky

Presented by Boston Playwright’s Theatre
Written by Monica Bauer
Directed by Megan Schy Gleeson

October 30-November 22, 2014
Boston Playwright’s Theatre
Boston, MA
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Review by Noelani Kamelamela

(Boston) Boston Playwright’s Theatre deftly handles heavy subject matter to thoroughly explore one family’s patterns in Chosen Child.  Cleverly overcoming technical limitations, intertwined histories emerge and recede amidst light and shadow in this production.

In near present day New York, David (Lewis D. Wheeler) struggles to find his sister Donna (Debra Wise) after his mother, Claudia (Lee Mikeska Gardener), dies. Further complications such as his schizophrenia as well as the fractious past of his family get in the way of his goals. He clearly cannot survive without help, either from the state or from a family member.  Both he and Donna share similar misgivings about reuniting and were separated for quite some time with little knowledge of each other’s lives. Their collective journeys are both exhausting and uplifting.

The set was suggestive of various spaces, mainly a cavernous space with worn linoleum flooring that would be found in a commuter station or large house.  The main set pieces on the stage were irregular boxes with voids and were combined to form larger, prop-holding set pieces, none exactly similar to any other piece.  Three large, transparent columns dominated the set and were mainly white, but occasionally colored from within by light.

The audience’s reaction to the set at the top of the show was mainly one of surprise and awe to view a departure from hyper-realistic drama, more abstract than detailed.  The imaginative leaps required of the audience were aided by the clear direction. Most actors played at least two or three different actual characters including the same character at different ages.  Although costumes remained simple, they were period-appropriate and character or age-appropriate.  Scenes jump in and out of both time and geographical area, and though the transitions are quick, they are connected by the common threads of David, Donna or their mother, Claudia.

Occasionally, sad laughter echoed in the theatre, in recognition of humor based on truth and not on puns or witty turns of phrase. The play is warmer and funnier than one would expect, given the source material and also better researched than most. Monica Bauer writes David as a real person, not only defined by his schizophrenia, but also his relationships and his memories of those ties.  Mainly, the audience is shown David’s experience inside of his condition, not in spite of his condition with the physical control of actor Lewis D. Wheeler. In contrast, the abilities of other characters such as Donna and Claudia, are portrayed in much the same neutral way, as limitations on different faculties and specific to each.

The 2014-2015 season at Boston Playwright’s Theatre starts with a two-sided odyssey.  Next, Boston Playwright’s Theatre will be presenting Michael Hammond’s Uncle Jack, a modern reimagining of Uncle Vanya in February 2015.

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