nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 21, 2012
I'm not 100% sure of this, but I believe that I have seen all but one of the collaborations between playwright Crystal Skillman and director Daniel Talbott over the past five or six years (the one I missed was The Wickapogue Plays, which was out on Long Island). I know these artists and their work very well, and while I won't say that they bring out the best in each other—because that would be limiting and reductive; these two each have many different kinds of "best" that they summon forth whenever they create for the stage—I will say that they have a very special chemistry: a way of inspiring each other to constantly reach deeper and higher to wring emotional and theatrical truth out of the very sparest and most intimate of dramatic ideas. Talbott loves to work in non-traditional venues, and Skillman journeys with him to whichever not-at-all obvious locale he's mapped out for a new project and matches him note for note with a script that feels organically part of the world where it's being staged (and yet, on paper, can obviously work elsewhere). Such is the magic of one of indie theater's great enduring creative partnerships.
And so here they go again with Follow. This new play, staged in the deep, narrow second floor space of an East Village walkup—it looks like an apartment that just happens to have two rows of audience seating in it—tells the story of two old men, brothers Noah and Josh, who have not seen each other for nearly 40 years. In addition to blood, they share the love for one woman, Lily, who is Noah's wife and now lays dying and in a coma in a hospital bed in this apartment. In the very first scene Josh tells us (though he is talking to Lily, we will discover) that he, not Noah, is the father of Lily and Noah's daughter, Sidney. Sidney—a troubled 37-year-old artist—is making a rare trip back home, and Josh, who has never met her, is going to tell her the truth.
As I said, all of this information is delivered right up front in Follow, so there are no real spoilers here. The impact of the play comes from witnessing the relationships among the three alternately build and unravel. Skillman tells the story in monologues, with the characters sharing their memories and feelings with the mostly lifeless wife/lover/mother who unites them. Interspersed among these deeply-felt soliloquies are more traditional narrative scenes around a homely dinner table as father, daughter, and long-lost uncle/brother struggle to connect and understand one another.
Talbott adds another visceral layer with scenes from three other apartments, probably in the very same building, played out in sort of bas-relief, usually behind the main action. It's perplexing at the outset because we aren't sure yet who the story is actually about, but the idea of placing these silent characters in the same physical space as Noah, Josh, and Sidney is intriguing; and there's a moment when everyone on stage spontaneously starts doing the same thing that's genuinely breathtaking, reminding us that however big our own world seems to be, there's a bigger one beyond it.
Sarah Shaefer, Gillian Rougier, Richard Millen, and Troy Deutsch play the "outsiders," while Jerry Matz (Josh), Matthew Lewis (Noah), and Addie Johnson (Sidney) are Follow's principals. The performances are precisely calibrated to the intimate space, so that even the most casual moments resonate while the emotional outbreaks are wrenching.
The space only accommodates ten patrons per performance, so if this kind of immediacy interests you, book your place soon.