By Dean Poynor; Directed by Mikhael Tara Garver
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 6.28.15
P.S. 142 Cafeteria, 100 Attorney Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 6.15.15
Allison Layman and Michael Dempsey in Together We Are Making a Poem in Honor of Life.
BOTTOM LINE: An essential, tremendously acted, and skillfully written poem of a play -- equally difficult and rewarding to watch.
“I wish it were something easy like cancer,” says Brian (Michael Dempsey) in Dean Poyner’s Together We Are Making a Poem in Honor of Life. Cancer is traumatic albeit with a clear plan of attack. It’s this kind of helpless language that peppers Poyner’s play about gun violence, the incomprehensible loss of children, and the attempt to understand a senseless world that allows both.
The audience is seated in a large circle in the actual cafeteria of P.S. 142 on the Lower East Side. You enter as if going to see an elementary school play (and will soon be far from it.) It’s a space that serves the play well, trapping us in a kind of grief counseling session. With barely more than four lights and a paperclip, production designer Gabriel Hainer Evansohn choreographs a fluorescent light dance with percussive pounding from a circuit breaker each time a light goes on and off. We understand this room as both the room for therapy and the same place in which a terrible crime has been committed -- circular and maddening.
Poyner gives us, as the title suggests, a poem of a play. It’s not entirely logical or linear but rather a carefully concocted portrait of two characters trying to understand the impossible. And what a roller coaster Allison Layman (Rebecca) and Michael Dempsey must ride in this play. Layman, despite her youth, is so well connected to this role that she will often sit an inch from you and you momentarily forget you are watching a play. We want to reach out and console her though even that seems useless. Director Mikhael Tara Garver allows her some tremendously useless and absolutely essential chair throwing to punctuate the depths of her grief. It’s a choice that could have been too much for a less connected artist. Both Layman and Dempsey successfully navigate this maze of a play with tremendous nuance and skill.
“What happened?” is a common theme in Together We Are Making a Poem and it would be a disservice for me to tell you my answers here. It’s hard to call it joy, but there is a kind of thrill for you to collect the dropped breadcrumbs of a story to weave together your own understanding. And this wonderful production will take you by the hand as you navigate your way. Will Pickens' treasure map-like sound design will help you as well. As far as summer fare goes, it’s far from the light and cool oasis of the usual theatrical programming. And it’s worth that departure.
(Together We Are Making a Poem in Honor of Life plays in the P.S. 142 Cafeteria, 100 Attorney Street, through June 28, 2015. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 with an additional performance on Sunday, June 28 at 3. Tickets are $18 and are available at inhonoroflifetheplay.com.)