Presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company
by Roland Schimmelpfennig
Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian
February 7 – March 1, 2014
Chelsea Theatre Works
189 Winnisimmet Street
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Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Chelsea) We cling to words as if they were a trail of breadcrumbs in a deep, dark forest. The cadence of conversations is the most important music in our lives. The collective expectation of how words flow in human speech, hardwired into our brains, can be the playwright’s best friend or worst enemy. As soon as a script is spoken aloud, the dialogue is judged for whether or not it rings true. If, however, the script can present a few verbal twists and turns that take us to unexpected places, the playwright has the audience eating out of the palm of his/her hand.
And then there are the daring playwrights who purposely create a rhythm of dialogue that runs like a car operated by a 12-year old driving stick. It is this form of verbal discomfort which is the main selling point of Apollinaire Theatre’s production of “Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God”. In the opening minutes of this strange play about two couples who confront the toll of the choices they’ve made in life, Roland Schimmelpfennig easily establishes that he could have written a more conventional family drama, but he wanted so much more. Just as we are beginning to settle in for melodrama, Schimmelpfennig makes jarring cuts in the script to allow each character snatches of inner dialogue that either foreshadow or recap actions in the play. The same snippets of dialogue show up again and again, told differently by different characters.
The effect is deliciously maddening. This technique, which could have easily been done very badly if not for the crisp timing of the talented cast of actors (Danielle Fauteux Jacques, Mauro Canepa, Becca A. Lewis, and David Anderson), leaves our brains no space to hide from the drama unfolding before us. Banal statements about fresh-baked bread take on as much meaning as acts of violence with the repetition. And we are never allowed to merge back into the stream of the original story at the same point where we left it, but instead are pulled backward to revisit the last few lines of dialogue before the break.
I can’t say that the technique always works, and I failed to gather deeper insight into the social satire of the storyline that Schimmelpfennig was using as scaffolding for this study of language and the brain. In a way, I kind of wish I could have seen the story (a pair of medical missionaries returning from Africa as damaged versions of themselves) performed straight, but maybe that’s the point. We don’t always get the answers we need from the words that fill our lives.