Review: A Memory Play Losing It’s Memory. ’The Hundred We Are’ at the cell.
Thomas Burns Scully
OnStage New York Critic
NEW YORK, NY - One of the things you have to come to terms with as a reviewer is that you are not constantly going to see great theatre. Or even horrible theatre (despite what my most recent reviews might have you believe). A lot of what you end up seeing is… okay. Like people. A few of them are Hitler, and a few are Stephen Fry, but most are somewhere in the middle. Like Alec Baldwin. Not likely to draw your complete ire or complete affection. And that’s what I got tonight at the cell with Origin Theatre. A little bit of Alec Baldwin-ness. Something that was fine. Something called ‘The Hundred We Are’.
‘The Hundred We Are’, written by Swedish playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri, is a play that is difficult to describe. With flares of the Jungian, it appears to be a memory play that is losing its memory. Three conflicting entities, (played by four actresses), appear in turmoil before us. At times on the brink of suicide, barely able to make it through the next minute, and other times able to breathe with relative ease. The three forms the mind takes (we are never sure if it is one fragmented mind, or three separate psyches) are a young, a middle-aged, and an old woman (with a younger woman providing her voice). They all argue, trying to straighten out the details of a life lived, half-realized ambitions and a tepid marriage. Many questions are asked and few are answered. The results are fine. Perfectly decent. Just not excellent.
A lot of people these days seem to regard the idea of being fine, of being adequate, as an insult. A three star review may as well be a one star review. That’s not the case. This delusion is borne out of the “First or nothing” mentality pervasive in world culture. So, when I say that this play is fine, that it is adequate, I don’t mean it as a veiled dig. This play is a perfectly reasonable evening at the theatre. It has moments of great elevation, and other moments that are just passable. No one here should be ashamed of their work, but I’m also not going to rave about the show.
I like the show’s concept, a fragmented head-trip of torn-up middle-class guilt. It’s almost a Woody Allen movie, but with less of his trademark comic flair. Not that the show doesn’t have laughs, it has a few good ones, but they are derived more from a dark cynicism and occasional goofiness than from blatant wit. Khemiri’s writing is, overall, feminine and brooding. While the setup would put one in mind of Albee’s ‘Three Tall Women’, the delivery and style is more like Godard’s ‘Weekend’. The world seems at once whole and normal, whilst simultaneously apocalyptic and irrationally chaotic. It’s consistently engaging, and while there is a persistent tone of turmoil, the play lacks a unity of message or a clear moral. Much like ‘Weekend’. The women/woman of the play argue constantly, and in the end, no one voice wins out as the voice of reason. All are equally flawed; preoccupied with the passions of youth, the preciosity of middle-age, or the regret of old-age. None of this feels wrong, but the play’s withholding of any kind of a thesis or a surprise take on muliebrity, at least for me, left a little to be desired.
Performance-wise, the show is, more-or-less, even. Orlagh Cassidy, Kitty Chen, Mirirai Sithole and Caitlin Cisco, are a pleasantly diverse cast. Cassidy embodies the middle-aged woman, Sithole the young woman, and Kitty Chen the older woman, with Caitlin Cisco providing her voice and shadow (Chen is silent for most of the play). They play together well, ably negotiating their parts. Occasionally they seem lost against the spartan white walls of the cell theatre-space, but never washed out. The venue is utilized nicely, with actors running up stairs and up on to balconies that I have not seen used before in that space. Jack Gilliat’s technical production design is also quite impressive. A live camera broadcasts segments of the show to a projected screen above the main playing area. Actors occasionally pick up the camera and use it to do the equivalent of a Vlog, or to highlight some other part of the performance. This allowed for some unusual and enjoyable blocking. I would have liked to see even more of it, even to have the entire show built around the technical working. But you can’t have everything, or what’s REM for?
There is something undeniably good going on in this production, but there is also an extent to which it feels like a certain amount of piss and vinegar is missing. The elements all seem there, the cast are game, the setup is interesting, the script is set, the design is good. And while I will say again, that I enjoyed the show and took something away from it with me, I don’t feel the need to rave about it. Something about it, its coolness, its lack of agenda, its passioned, but vague stabs at society… I didn’t feel like I was being told anything I didn’t already know. I am moved, but unchanged. Much like when I experience the earlier mentioned Alec Baldwin. And that’s fine. Much like Alec Baldwin. Commendments to the cast, Khemiri, director Erwin Mass, Origin, the cell, and all crew involved. The theatre you make is good, and worth seeing. ‘The Hundred We Are’ is worth a look for the New York theatre-going crowd.
‘The Hundred We Are’ performs Wednesday March 16 to Friday April 8 (with an opening on Monday March 21 at 8pm), at the cell, 338 West 23rd Street (between 8th & 9th Avenues). Performances are Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm; and Sunday at 3pm. For tickets, which are $35, call 866-811-4111, or visit www.origintheatre.org (Running time: 80 minutes)
This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
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