Tag: Matt Kooi
A powerful journey through faith and misery
|Theatre Y presents|
|Juliet: A Dialogue About Love|
|Written by Andras Visky
Directed by Karin Coonrod
at Royal George Studio, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
through October 3rd | tickets: $25 | more info
Reviewed by Barry Eitel
Andras Visky’s autobiographical play Juliet plunges to some of the deepest abysses of misery. It describes his mother’s experience in a Romanian gulag from 1959 to 1964, where she had to raise seven children—Andras included—while imprisoned for being married to a reverend. The one-woman show explores the fine line where the flickering flame of the human spirit burns out. Visky lays bare some powerful truths that’ll have you reaching for the Prozac. The play bristles with gravitas. The utter, entirely-believable pain in the language strikes true in the heart, but the heavy subject matter weighs the piece down.
In the subtitle, Visky claims he has penned a dialogue “about love,” even though only one character speaks for the whole duration. The author, along with the sharp-witted Melissa Hawkins portraying his mother, create a very real interaction between Juliet and her God. The relationship is complex and nuanced, even though we only hear and see one half. Hawkins’ biggest strength is clarity, a forte which makes the “dialogue” come alive. Visky packs his story with spirituality, understandable because he was a minister’s son, a minister that was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Several aspects of the real life narrative plug into the Biblical account of Job, a point Juliet makes several times. Her experience has her questioning everything, including both her prayerbook and the Communist propaganda proclaiming God’s non-existence.
Huge questions are at bat in Visky’s prose. Juliet debates suicide in as grand of terms as Hamlet. She claims she is well acquainted with the hand-maidens of death, even enjoying a hot bath at their hands. Sometimes she even implies regret for not joining them. She ponders, perhaps even dreams, about what it would be like to leave her children behind. Juliet fields the questions, I assume, most people that trek through that sort of agony ask themselves.
There are a few times Hawkins and Visky let some humor flutter out. There needs to be more of those moments. The releases are what make such a horrible ordeal not only a bit more palatable, but relatable. Even though Hawkins has been touring the show for years, Juliet’s sense of humor comes off as unsure. She has some brilliant moments, such as the first time she surveys her new home. After five days of being cooped up in cattle trains without access to a bath, she releases her naked children into the rain. It’s the little slices of joy, wit, and irony that make the show watchable. Hawkins appears to paint other moments with comedy, but they lack the clarity that defines the rest of the performance.
Director Karin Coonrod and her team create a world inside the tiny Royal George studio that’s incredibly Spartan but infinitely adaptable. Matthew Kooi’s lighting design is stunning, relying on several, single-instrument moments. His choices drastically set the perfect mood for each section and push the drama of the entire show. Hawkins owns the entire stage, which contains more surprises than it would first appear. One heartbreaking moment occurs when she contemplates her husband’s possible demise. When crying out that he is alive, she grabs onto a coat (apparently Visky’s actual father’s garment) that hangs from the flies, but quickly releases it when the more probable reality hits her, letting it sway forlornly.
In Hawkins beats the heart of a performer. She tosses herself into the sea of the character, even when the situation is so bleak. Visky, like many of Eastern Bloc writers, waxes existentially, shaping austere subject matter with grace. Juliet asks the audience to slog through a lot, but the final moments give the journey meaning.