Created and Directed by Lauren Hlubny
Produced by Danse Theatre Surreality
Off Off Broadway, Dance Theatre
Runs through 9.29.19
TADA! Youth Theatre, 15 West 28th Street
by Emily Cordes on 9.26.19
Danse Theatre Surreality in Thoughts and Prayers. Photo by Regal Pictures/Cathleen Marie Thérèse Parra.
BOTTOM LINE: Through movement and music, Thoughts and Prayers explores the public response to tragedy.
One of the starkest realities of our current age is the frequency, and publicity, of the tragedies we face: from mass shootings to civic scandals to natural disasters, we bear witness to a seemingly endless stream of crises, each of which leaves its mark on our personal and collective psyches. Given tragedy’s omnipresence in our modern lives, we may even note with a certain wry humor the formulaic and circular response with which we greet each new disaster, particularly the cycle of protest followed by inaction. Though such cynicism may numb us to the horrors we encounter, it can also mire us in fear and complacency, and it is these same cycles against which Danse Theatre Surreality's Thoughts and Prayers warns. Combining dance theatre, live music, and inventive staging, Thoughts and Prayers probes our layered responses to public tragedy and asks whether constructive change can exist.
Thoughts and Prayers presents its concept in five acts, each segment focused on a different type of familiar crisis: a shooting, a natural disaster, a family tragedy, a government scandal, and a terrorist attack. Director Lauren Hlubny seats the audience stadium-style on either side of the playing area, with the action occurring between our divided vantage points. Onstage, the conversations and dance sequences of white middle-class couple Felix (creator-composer Thomas Giles) and Dana (Emma Factor) depict the individual response to each catastrophe. Functioning as a Greek-style chorus, a trio of “activist” violinists (Sergio Muñoz, Charlotte Munn-Wood, and Lena Vidulich) and “Congressmen” saxophonists (Guy Dellecave, Josh Lang, and Galo Morales) play from opposing sides of the stage, their musical accompaniment representing the polarized public sphere and lending running commentary to the action before them.
Each scenario begins as Giles and Factor’s breakfast-table routine is interrupted by the warnings of flashing red screens and some sort of physical disruption to their surroundings (sand pouring from above; a balloon’s violent popping; a red-smeared scrim enfolding the playing space). The dancers’ subsequent duets mimic common responses to such occurrences: they hide under set pieces, support each other in poses of need, defense, or comfort, or frantically try to scrub and sweep away the fallout. The first two sections conclude with a repeated exchange in which Dana and Felix ponder the apathy their privilege affords, questioning the merits of such actions as composting and supporting local businesses in light of the greater stakes at hand. This dialogue grows shorter but more urgent with each passing crisis, acquiring existential weight in the context of mourning or devolving into outcries as widespread tension mounts.
As the opposing Congress/Activist choruses, the instrumentalists add further nuance to each tragedy in their varying responses to the dancers, the events, and each other. Given context, the Activists’ strings can elicit empathy, broadcast impending danger, or whir with confrontation. Likewise, the Congressional horns address their surroundings with military bluster, patriotic pomp, or squawking laughter. A talented musician in his own right, Giles periodically accompanies the choruses on alto saxophone, his staccato bleats reminiscent of gunshots, wails, or shaky breathing. Like the dancers, the Choruses’ interactions evolve as the piece unfolds, the events’ broader implications moving them from suspicion and factionalism to dialogue and shared responsibility. Hlubny and Giles end the show in this same spirit, concluding each performance with a talk-back between creators, audience, and panelists from different social justice groups.
By presenting sequential variations on the cycle of public tragedy, Thoughts and Prayers acknowledges our habitual reactions to it as it challenges us to disrupt them. Though the frequency of such events, and our own tendency to shut down in self-defense, can blur devastating news into a general wash of despair, the piece shows us that these attitudes are not only inaccurate but irresponsible: closer scrutiny of tragedies can reveal key insights and inspire solutions. As the piece shows, we have reached a point where thoughts, prayers, and partisanship are insufficient: we must join forces to solve the problems affecting us all.
(Thoughts and Prayers plays at TADA! Youth Theatre, 15 West 28th Street, through September 29, 2019. The running time is 60 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $15-$65 and are available at dansetheatresurreality.org.)
Thoughts and Prayers is created and directed by Lauren Hlubny. Produced by Danse Theatre Surreality. Composer is Thomas Giles. Assistant Director/Assistant Dramaturg is Kyra Hauck. Lighting Design and Scenic Drafting by Luther Frank. Set Imagery by Lauren Hlubny and Luther Frank. Costumes by Taylor Barnett. Dialogue Author is Alexis Roblan. Production Stage Manager is Lida Rubanava.
The cast is Thomas Giles, Emma Factor, Sergio Muñoz, Charlotte Munn-Wood, Lena Vidulich, Guy Dellecave, Josh Lang, and Galo Morales.