Natalie Rine, Contributing Critic - New York City
Written, directed, and choreographed by the industrious and passionate Yehuda Hyman, “THE MAR VISTA: In Search of My Mother’s Love Life” is a comical, semi-autobiographical dance-play hybrid that ultimately gets lost within its dizzying breadth of aspirations.
At the center of the story is the bond between Hyman and his mother, Sara, a strong-willed Russian-Jewish woman with a colorful past speckled with odd and wild romances that ultimately leave her trapped when she settles down and has Hyman and an average suburban immigrant life. A cast of six actors travels 90 years and several continents to tell countless vignettes through a witty mixture of music, dance, and storytelling about both Sara and Hyman, and their respective loves and longings. It is through this highly original lens through which we see the making of the artist before us; however, it is also precisely this deeply personal connection that muddies and alienates the audience from truly connecting to any muddled universal messages that were begging to peep through the cracks of the piece.
Poetic, The Mar Vista honors Hyman’s vibrant family history through vignettes of dance, music, and storytelling that transport the audience everywhere from Istanbul to Los Angeles. Hyman’s dances effuse desire and a primal need for storytelling that flows through these characters’ veins like the Highballs they down so readily to drown their inhibitions. Hyman acts as emcee, director within the piece, chorus of characters, and at times himself at various ages, swirling and cascading around the stage in a tornado of passion. Particularly radiant and poised, Amanda Schussel as Sara shines with a determination and grit showcasing a malleable soul and keen ability to journey from vibrant youthfulness to heart-breaking frailty.
The play tries very hard to position Sara as the protagonist and focal-point of the story, as the title suggests, but Hyman’s ever-watchful presence and voice is inescapable. The true power of this play is in Hyman’s speculation and creation of a world and history that has been passed down to him. The play itself recognizes the power of creation and recreation of memory in one snippet where Sara recounts a colorful anecdote, and, when asked if it’s true by a precocious young Hyman, coyly replies, “Maybe.” Therein lies the power of this story that is never quite acknowledged; this is not an autobiography, but a recreation of Hyman’s mother’s life, therefore woven through stories and mysteries of putting pieces together received and perceived second-hand, mashed together with his own life’s puzzle pieces and sporadic selective memories. It follows then that the strongest scene of the play follows an ambitious autobiographical fantasy through Hyman’s own childhood wonder, where Jacob Perkins steps in to play an eight year-old Hyman with vivacity and spunk. Hyman’s ability to step outside himself and let this scene paint a picture from his own personal memory touches an honesty innocence not otherwise found through his retelling of his mother’s life he didn’t live. His mother never seems to be innocent, instead portrayed as always sexy and daring and headstrong, as she was seen through her son’s eyes, but ultimately two-dimensional depriving us of conflict and a true exploration of a brave Russian-Jewish woman’s psyche. It is only when the play dives into Hyman’s own life and experiences that the show spreads wings and flies.
The Mar Vista fits well in the blackbox space at the cozy Found Foundation Studio Theatre, but it is visually underwhelming. Zach Blane’s lighting design captures tonal blues that drown the characters’ sorrows and wash them in longing on an otherwise mostly bare stage. Blane’s lighting makes up for it with a mastery of comedy and storytelling, as seen in a comical swimming number on the floor, as well as shadow-play and vibrant Yiddish dance numbers. Ezra Bloom’s sound design and original music invite us into the story, switching decades and cities with ease and exuberance.
Costume design by Amy Page is spot-on with Dean Martin’s (yes, Dean Martin) snappy tux and Sara’s radiant blue dress stealing the show. The actors’ basic costumes work well as transitive and simple, allowing the story to project onto their bodies as they morph from character to character and year to year, adding simple props and accessories along the way. The emphasis then is allowed to stay on Hyman’s text and language, which hugs the actors in a warm, flowing embrace. The Mar Vista is heart-warming and beautiful, an ambitious theatrical journey from Hyman’s heart to ours.
THE MAR VISTA: In Search of My Mother’s Love Life
“The Mar Vista” stars Amanda Schussel, Ron Kagan, Ryan Pater, Jacob Perkins, Ezra Bloom, and Yehuda Hyma.
Written, directed & choreographed by Yehuda Hyman. Design by Zach Blane (Lighting), Amy Page (Costume), Ezra Bloom (Sound and Original Music), and Lewis Folden (Scenic Consultant).
“The Mar Vista” runs at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 W. 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036) through Saturday, March 23, 2019. Tickets for “The Mar Vista” can be purchased online at https://www.ticketcentral.com, by calling 212-279-4200, or in person at Signature Center. For more information, please visit https://www.themarvistaplay.com/. Running time is 110 minutes with one intermission.
Photo Credit: Ethan Hill