Humana Festival: Day 1

I made it! That was never really in doubt, but it's never really real until you get your badge, now is it? And now I get to put this blog space to good use, like as a blog and everything.

I'm going to be seeing 6 shows in 3 days, so it's best to just get down to brass tacks before I forget everything. First show: I Will Be Gone by Erin Courtney (Bingham)

The Bingham is a very unique space. I can tell you that it's a square theatre in the round with steep slopes and a tiny playing space, but that's not quite good enough to get at it. Unfortunately, I have another show in less than an hour, so for now, it will have to do.

I wouldn't bring it up at all, except that I Will Be Gone begins with a large scale model of a ghost town floating over the playing space, taking up nearly all of it. Now, I know that having a scale model of a setting that is vital to the play dominate the space rising above the audience to become the sky, in all it's multicolored glory, is a beautiful image. But it's hard for the technician in me to see that and not also hear the groans from the production heads at the design meeting. The Bingham also plays host to four shows in rotating rep, so the headaches will just keep on giving. I will keep you informed as to what they do with it. That's not really about the play, but it was the first thought I had when I sat down and this is a blog, so I can't not write about it. Apologies to Erin Courtney.

The first image of the ghost town is central to the play though and the way the Bingham forces the designers to show you the ghost town, to keep you anchored the image of it, and to create enough space for the actual acting really added to the charm of the show, which is, as it happens, a ghost story.

It's a ghost story that focuses on a select group of people in a small town who are, in this play, literally haunted by the past. There is a great monologue in the piece about Tommyknockers (especially well-suited to the wooden floor on the Bingham's trappable deck, a nice thumping quality that doesn't need much help from the sound designer). I only know the Stephen King novel, but the monologue, delivered by a character purporting to be guiding us on a tour through the ghost town, which was, naturally, an old mining town. The story is that miners would hear these loud knocking sounds, coming out of nowhere and that the miners were of two minds about these knocks, which would always happen before a cave in. Some thought that the Tommyknockers were benevolent, providing a warning of imminent disaster (Get out, get out, get out). The others thought they were evil, bringing the calamity with them. That ambivalence about the past, about the weight of it on us, is really the main idea the characters wrestle with and to Courtney's credit, there is no resolution. We are as conflicted as we watch the characters fall apart because of their spirits, but we also watch them get saved just in the knick of time. 

Ultimately, there is more salvation, or at least more escapes in this play than disasters, which dampened the stakes for me a bit. I never sensed that the irrevocable disaster would ever truly reach our unbalanced characters and the play ends with a quiet scene of two people, who will become ghosts, enjoying a moment of solitude. But there is a bit of circularity to the plot, a sense of return to a new place, or rather a new sense of the old place that doesn't let us believe that anyone has solved their many problems. One character, a young man who got hooked on Oxy, is in Narcotics Anonymous, and then suffers a relapse, is emblematic of this circularity. We have arrived at a new, better equilibrium. For now.

Certainly, I Will Be Gone leaves you with plenty to think about as you file out of the theatre and hope to find the exit in that screwball theatre in the round, which has far fewer actual exits exit signs. The Bingham, man.