Cephalopod: A Play Below Sea Level
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
August 16, 2009
Cephalopod is an intriguing play with all the strange beauty of the squid species for which it is named. This piece moves, as the subtitle would indicate, "as a play below sea level" and by that I would suggest that it floats and shifts and makes its impact perhaps without heat but with real strength and makes for some fine theatre.
The play exists within the basement/playroom where Mary (the very talented Jessica Cummings) is packing all that was purchased in anticipation of her new daughter, who was recently born stillborn. Very quickly it becomes apparent that things are somewhat off in this life when Princess Di (Lily Howard) enters as Mary's closest companion and helps shield Mary from the incessant delivery of sympathy flowers and casseroles (here referred to as "disastaroles") with a little pharmaceutical help as well. Di initially appears also to be the only being not in the firing line of Mary's pain. Her sympathetic husband, Pat (Matthew Naclerio), and challenging mother Evelyn (played with finesse and wonderfully unapologetically by Emily Zacharias), are hard pressed to connect with her. Evelyn is more aggravated by past choices Mary has made about her life and is a wonderfully complicated character, being well-defined both as a mother and as a woman. To further complicate matters, Pat is up for tenure and trying to remain focused on his work with cephalopods while being oddly obsessed, for a post-Vatican-II Roman Catholic, with Limbo.
But make no mistake, this play is no agony-fest. The sanctuary of the playroom structure is understandably appealing, and the wit with which Mary parries the pain is both admirable and amusing. While her husband, mother, and friends are all a world she fights effectively to remove herself from, their presence and affect make the play as it allows the audience to put together the story between the conflicts and contradictions. If it sometimes feels that the conflicts could use a little more life experience in the writing, playwright Kyle Warren is very talented and has written a play of such skill, he deserves watching. The text is solid and frequently has the potential to take your breath away. Director Rebecca Stevens has intelligently crafted a production of swiftness and lightness, which serves this play and its cast well.
The production seems to consist of almost all alums of Northwestern University and reflects well on the talent level there. Hopefully there will be more work upcoming from these folks, and in the meanwhile Cephalopod should be seen.