nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
August 16, 2009
Set in a future of extreme choices, Barton Bishop's new play Eminene centers on anxiety, safety, and desire in a world of unpredictability. Like the best science fiction, it resonates on deep human themes within a genre that allows for extremes that vividly point up these conflicts. If it sometimes lacks balance—and there is so much afoot that it becomes a bit hard to keep up—Eminene is well worth the effort, with a fine cast and a story with plenty of humanity to give depth to all its extremes.
The piece starts at a high pitch that does not let up throughout the first act. In a post-apocalyptic environment, somewhat like an Octavia E. Butler novel, we come across two people trying to determine who will kill whom first. Both individuals are on the run from an attack that just occurred, it is clear they need to move on, but will it be with or without each other? With no easy choices and a clear need for allies in the midst of unrelenting hostility, they pair up and move on.
So Eminene, this young girl from an unnamed village (played with strength by Britney Burgess), and this man (the appropriately distant Michael Sharon) with more past than a sane person would expect, move on out. They create a relationship despite an ongoing and remorseless series of attacks in all sorts of settings, as well as increasingly frequent sightings of a man with no face. This presence appears to be pursuing the man. Although his identity is never clarified, on either practical or metaphorical terms, he is a beguiling presence. The trickiest thing about this Act and its world of utter uncertainty is how to keep things moving at that very high level without exhausting or annoying the audience, and in this the director and cast do a fine job.
Act 2 switches extremes and lands in a place of intense security, in a sort of ultimate gated community. The girl is now the woman, Claire, with family and a comfortable life that is all she had wished for. But there are underlying tensions that allude to the fragility of her position, of the things which she and her husband (the talented Christopher T. VanDijk) cannot discuss and the script to which they must stick. The continual denial of her past and the inability to discuss it are wearing down the marriage. To further complicate matters, the security may be more illusionary than expected, as her best friend Gina (well played by Ellie Dvorkin) has a problematic past, and, at the onset of puberty, Claire's daughter (Morgin Felicia) is changing in ways that further strain the foundation of this family.
It was at this point that Eminene became challenging to me. Act 1 is so very clear about the danger, but in Act 2 things either work out with ease or pass with quiet impact. Yet I remained engaged throughout and thoroughly on Eminene's side in a world that perhaps ultimately neither she nor I understand.
In addition to a strong cast and interesting script, the production is well supported by the very fine set and lighting by Andrew Lu, who knows how to design intelligently, effectively, and economically. Director Matthew J. Nichols keeps the cast focused and energized. Eminene is a very vivid piece and well worth seeing.