By Jean Ann Douglass; Directed by Jess Chayes
By Ben Beckley; Directed by Jess Chayes
Produced by Dutch Kills Theater Company
Off Off Broadway, Plays in Rep
Runs through 3.11.17
Theater 511, 511 West 54th Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 2.24.17
Lori Elizabeth Parquet and Amy Staats in The Providence of Neighboring Bodies.
BOTTOM LINE: The Providence of Neighboring Bodies and Latter Days are quietly profound reflections on two starkly different worlds trapped in monotony and fear of the unknown.
I don’t know when Dutch Kills Theater Company made the decision to produce these two plays, though I’ll suspect that with the slow moving wheel of theater production it was well before November 8, 2016. I will call them prophets of doom. The Providence of Neighboring Bodies and Latter Days, wildly different in tone, have such profound yet subtle things to say about the dangers of America-first nationalism. I found myself leaning in, allowing them to impact me with every word.
The Providence of Neighboring Bodies
Jean Ann Douglass’ bizarre, effervescent little play unfurls slowly like a magical flower. Once it finally blooms and the play is revealed you understand the journey and then it fades as fast as it came. I found in it a narrative of distrust of outsiders, dare I say immigrants. In a program note, Douglass mentions that beavers have been displaced from the entire state of Rhode Island due to overpopulation and a law that doesn’t allow for their killing. You may sit with that fact for over half of the play before its gravity sets in.
Director Jess Chayes keenly places two neighbors in opposing apartment balconies perched atop boxes, rarely moving beyond their self-imposed walls (scenic design is by Carolyn Mraz.) They are Dora, a magnetic busybody (Lori Elizabeth Parquet), and Bonnie (an expertly cast Amy Staats). Dora declares that today will be the day she gets to know her neighbor and, in a stream of narration directly to the audience, goes about her quaint albeit dull day in the gentle, untroubled neighborhood of Rhode Island. It’s tediously funny.
Bonnie posts her couch on Couchsurfing in order to liven her own life up with guests. She spends her days longing for a houseguest, making her profile more attractive and finally, finally, gets a guest. The arrival of Jane (Dinah Berkeley) proves to be just the spice needed for Dora. Jane's narration is the stuff of my Midwestern upbringing, filled with fears of the unknown, unnecessary strategizing, and regret. But this Jane is no ordinary houseguest. She is, in fact, a beaver, in the full guise of a human being; as Jane the beaver, Berkeley is so endearing I may consider inviting a beaver over to my apartment.
I fear I may have already revealed too much. But I promise there’s more in store for what becomes an allegory for the concern of the outsider, all with the pleasant veneer of smiles, comedy, and sunshine that makes for a jolting conclusion.
Ben Beckley’s Latter Days offers a different perspective on America’s dark times. Still in the realm of comedy, but much darker and more disturbing, we’re in a dingy room, home to The King (a satisfyingly gross Tony Torn) who sits regally atop his toilet. His servant Dead Bill (a watchful, eager Will Dagger) attends to his every need, cyclically going out for coffee, bananas, and the occasional news of the outside met with suspicion. They seem to be waiting for the end, counting down the days before some untold great thing happens. Making the World Great Again perhaps.
If it’s all sounding vaguely familiar it must be from Beckley’s obvious allusions to Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and Happy Days (End as in Latter and Days as in, um, Days I assume). There are two characters at war with time gradually covering themselves in their own filth and rising concerns. The trademark Beckettian rhythm and language is at play here, eliciting the same kind of laughter that feels wrong when it happens.
Chayes directs here as well and her simplicity and precision shines again. To my mind, Latter Days is the less successful of the two, if only because it’s far too reminiscent of the Beckett world without being different enough to warrant its necessity. Although its themes of grand delusion and co-dependent power relationships couldn’t feel truer.
Perhaps it does these short, fine productions an injustice to lump them together in one review, though Dutch Kills offers them in rep (and at a discount if you see both). When viewed together there is a startling sense of the unknown that has all of us trapped, particularly now. I suppose having finished writing this I should check the news to see the latest damage. Oh shit…
(The Providence of Neighboring Bodies and Latter Days play at Theater 511, 511 West 54th Street, through March 11, 2017. Running time for Providence is 75 minutes; and 60 minutes for Latter Days. Performances are every evening at 7 and 9; no performances Tue 2/28 or Mon 3/6. Added matinee for Providence on 3/10 at 3. Tickets are $20, $35 premium reserved seating, and $30 for both shows when bought together. The plays run in rotating repertory—consult the schedule and buy tickets at dutchkillstheater.com.)
The Providence of Neighboring Bodies is by Jean Ann Douglass. Latter Days is by Ben Beckley. Both are directed by Jess Chayes. Set design is by Carolyn Mraz. Costume design for The Providence of Neighboring Bodies is by Evan Prizant. Costume design for Latter Days is by Kate Fry. Lighting design is by Derek Wright. Sound design is by Asa Wember. Props design is by Jess Adams. Original music is by Chris Chappell. Production Stage Manager is Allison Raynes.
The cast of The Providence of Neighboring Bodies is Dinah Berkeley, Lori Elizabeth Parquet, and Amy Staats. The cast of Latter Days is Tony Torn and Will Dagger.