Presented by the Huntington Theatre Co.
Directed and written by Craig Lucas
Review by Kitty Drexel
This is a bilingual production; the text is expressed in English and ASL through interpreters. My heartfelt thanks to the crew of the Huntington for respecting the limitations of the hearing community.
(Boston, MA) Bad things happen to people. They just do. Religious pessimists might believe that the Powers That Be punish sinners but even good people experience tragedy. Piety provides no exemption. Bad things happen because they do. If we could understand why, maybe we could prevent them from happening.
The Huntington’s summary of I Was Most Alive With You focuses on the dismemberment of Knox (the stunningly poignant Russell Harvard) in an auto accident with boyfriend Farhad (Tad Cooley) after a disturbing meal with Knox’s extended family. The plot is fashioned after the Biblical story of Job, the Muslim, Jewish and Christian prophet. (To paraphrase wildly: God tests Job’s faith because Satan thinks it might be fun. This is why we don’t let Satan decide what fun means.) Time reveals that the entire family is hiding unhappy truths from the ones they love. The family endures and attempts to remain strong in their faiths. Considering the odds thrown against them, they are remarkably successful.
It is important to note that this production tackles many inflammatory issues: religion, substance addiction/abuse, sex work, ablism & disability, health, and homophobia. Drug and alcohol addiction is enabled throughout. To a much lesser degree, sexual abuse is also discussed. There is a self-harm scene. These topics are depicted in a respectful but graphic manner. Sensitive individuals should examine their comfort with these topics before buying tickets.
Playwright/director Lucas hits us over the head with so much. Too much to thoughtfully comprehend in one sitting. It’s a play layered deeply with trauma, a thoughtful discussion on what it means for private tragedies to be aired publicly. The stellar work of the cast (and I include the incredible ASL shadow interpreters when I use this word) and Lucas’s direction make it all digestible. In the hands of others, this play could be a hot mess but in theirs this production is wildly effective in pulling heart strings and conveying multiple messages to the audience. It’s testament to the dedication paid to their craft.
The blonde wood, Ikea-influenced set is a blank page for the drama with its clean lines and matruska doll design capacity. Its simple construction by Dane Laffrey means it highlights rather than conceals unpleasant truths. There is no where for the script or actors to hide.
I Was Most Alive With You is about too many things but mostly it is about a dysfunctional family that loves itself more when all of the worst things that can happen occur all at the same time. Instead of merely being a play about plumbing the depths of personal disaster, it is a show about religion, and expressions of faith. It is bitterly painful and excruciatingly beautiful.
Thank you, Craig Lucas, for making Knox and Farhaf flush, complicated characters. Thank you for representing these members of the disabled community as a people with sexualities, purpose, dreams, and flaws. We are not fetishes or social burdens; we are people who deserve the same respect as everyone else. Thank you for telling our stories without sacrificing our personhood. Thank you for representing us with respect and diginity.