By Tamar Bartaia; Directed by Becky Baumwoll
Produced by Red Lab Productions
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.3.17
Teatro Circulo, 64 East 4th Street
by Ran Xia on 7.25.17
Tara Giordano and Luke Younger in A Toy Gun. Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum.
BOTTOM LINE: Against the backdrop of the Georgian Civil War, two paths enlace through destiny, survival, and the memory of a toy gun.
Sometimes you wonder if, at the end of your days, you’ll look back and pin point the moment that altered the entire trajectory of your life; if you’ll realize that one defining glimpse of time that made all the difference. What—if there is one—is your "rosebud"?
Georgian playwright Tamar Bartaia’s A Toy Gun tickles with that very question in a most tender and profound way. Entering a space that’s starkly minimalist—an empty black box with envelopes scattered over the ground—you hear familiar arias, including ones from Madame Butterfly and Samson and Delilah. The two characters enter as if a suspended reality, and we discover the story from the beginning, before they’ve met each other for the very first time. Mea (birth name Medea, played by Tara Giordano), was barely 15 then, with an intense love for Yo (real name Yoram, Luke P. Younger), the most popular actor in the country.
A production of Romeo and Juliet connects the two: Yo is set to direct, and Mea brings the worst audition, where she freezes on stage in front of her idol and her heart’s desire. After being humiliated on stage, Mea’s love for Yo turns into a fiery vengeance, which prompts her to call on the latter’s doorstep with a toy gun, pretending a treat. Much to her surprise, the celebrity becomes deeply affected by her presence; a young girl’s intimidation somehow shakes the famous performer to his core.
Years go by and the distant memory of a toy gun becomes increasingly faint. The two gradually grow into different people: Mea gets scouted for her talent and becomes a famous mezzo soprano, whereas Yo eventually turns to playwriting, getting recognition from London and beyond. Both Giordano and Younger are magnetic performers who demand attention, and I was drawn to their joys and aches. The parallel lives of these two characters and the easy chemistry between the actors make the piece engaging throughout.
Becky Baumwoll of Broken Box Mime Theatre directs the highly narrative two-hander with her strength in devising human relationship through movement. The lifelines of the pair become interwoven from their first interaction, even though they keep missing each other as they travel their respective paths. The actors set up the abstraction of their worlds with circles of colored sand: Mea in red and Yo in blue. The two striking colors become mixed and muddled as their connections become increasingly messy and complex. This simple convention is truly visually stunning, and highly effective.
Although A Toy Gun is an intimate piece about how two lives connect, it doesn’t have a lot of direct dialogue, but is told through two candid narrators. It reminds me of Der Kontrabass by Patrick Süskind and Dear Elizabeth by Sarah Ruhl. There is a lovely tenderness and sadness about this lack of actual connection, and the poetic repetition adds much to the dramatic tension.
The two stories are also set against the backdrop of the civil war in Georgia. The political circumstances directly influence the decisions of the characters. A Toy Gun is thus a play that reflects the political climate that the writer is in, yet because the story is told in a soft way, this makes it even more moving. It’s unfortunate that Bartaia will be unable to see the staged version of her play, because she wasn’t able to get a visa. A Toy Gun, along with the rest of the Georgian-American Theatrical Feast, will hopefully allow audiences to gain awareness of a part of the world with which they may not be familiar.
(A Toy Gun plays at Teatro Circulo, 64 East 4th Street, through August 3, 2017. The running time is 1 hour 10 minutes without an intermission. Remaining performances are Saturday 7/29 at 8, Sunday 7/30 at 3, Wednesday 8/2 at 8, and Thursday 8/3 at 8. Tickets are $18 and are available at brownpapertic
A Toy Gun is by Tamar Bartaia. Directed by Becky Baumwoll. Lighting Design is by Lauren Duffie. Stage Manager is Esti Bernstein.
The cast is Tara Giordano and Luke Younger.