nytheatre.com review by David Johnston
June 21, 2007
It's hard to describe Gone Missing. The Civilians, a downtown experimental troupe, have gathered interviews from a variety of sources. They asked a number of people about something they lost—not a person, a thing. Various characters talk about rings, shoes, gold teeth, a sense of humor, a Palm Pilot, the power of language, all their earthly possessions, body parts, and the continent of Atlantis. We hear about Sodom and Gomorrah, Xanadu, Shangri-La, the Bermuda Triangle, and the Sargasso Sea. There's no plot, no protagonist whose progress we dutifully track from A to B. The costumes are nondescript gray suits. The set is a cloudy blue sky. The songs are Brechtian vaudeville turns. The entire show is a nonlinear, anti-narrative collage—the theatrical equivalent of work by visual artists like Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, or Kurt Schwitters.
Feel like buying a ticket? Based on the above description, I'd avoid it like traffic. Buy a ticket anyway. Gone Missing is fantastic theatre—a seemingly cerebral conceit with a sucker punch about people marked by loss. Drawing on the work of other collaborative artists like the Wooster Group and Moises Kaufman's Tectonic Theatre, the Civilians have crafted something entirely original; a thrillingly theatrical work that pivots on a thing that is lost and often what is surprisingly gained.
Composer Michael Friedman's songs weave in and out of the stories of fruitless quests. One ("La Bodega") is in Spanish. Another ("Ich Traumt Du Kamst An Mich") is sung entirely in German. Friedman's songs have a lovely handmade quality to them. They're full of quick wit and jagged edges. They tie things together, keep things flowing, and shed light in unexpected places. They are all of a part with Gone Missing, and yet some (the witty and rueful "Lost Horizon") could work beautifully as stand-alones.
Gone Missing is peopled with rich, strange folk: a man who picks up body parts for the police department, a pushy woman who turns P.S. 122 upside down in a search for her black pump, a former stockbroker turned animal psychic. They tell their stories, which often end with a grotesque or poignant twist. One woman has a stingy uncle who leaves her an inheritance. Soon, she has lost the sapphire ring he gave her and invested all of his money in the stock market in the year 2000. The last twist—"I feel like I erased him"—cuts deep.
Gone Missing has been developed and workshopped over a number of years, and writer/director Steven Cosson has polished it to a high sheen. All six performers are high-quality class acts, working as an ensemble in the best sense of the word. With all the awards that are given out these days, they should be up for something.
Gone Missing is not about 9/11. Indeed, 9/11 is only mentioned once, by a character who flatly states, "I lost my Palm Pilot running away from World Trade." And yet, it is truly one of the most evocative and theatrical statements to come out of the period since 9/11 that I have seen. Gone Missing shows us a city of people carrying around some private loss, some thing that cannot be recovered, a grief that tugs gently but always.