200 Mystical Fictions
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
August 22, 2007
Debra L. Siegel has written a complex, emotional drama about what it is to lose a loved one and what it takes to engage in life again. Appropriately enough, 200 Mystical Fictions begins in a group therapy session. The participants reluctantly give up pieces of personal information in the event that therapy might actually work. But, the lead character, Brooke, does not. In three years of meetings, Brooke has shared nothing, vacillating between the emptiness of her real life and the richness of her dreams where she can cling to Jake, the man she still loves but can never marry because he was one of the firefighters killed on 9/11. Everyone in the group has become as impatient with Brooke as they are in coming to terms with their own demons. Enter Kaz, a quiet young man, who is attracted to Brooke and who responds to her in a low-key, unpredictable way.
Siegel seems to understand the journey of loss, mourning, and the return trip back to living a full life. Her script alternates between Brooke's dream sequences, which interrupt at nearly every conversation, and Brooke's mundane and challenging day-to-day life. In Brooke's dreams, Jake appears in elaborate, exotic costumes, hinting at the colorful and enticing life they had planned together, beginning with a trip to Japan where they were to marry. There are dream sequences of Jake giving her a Japanese dictionary, of Brooke speaking Japanese, of a guide who is unable to translate his lecture into Japanese. Brooke cannot let these memories go. Kaz, for his part, is half Japanese. He seems to understand her, and he makes himself available in a soft-spoken, solid way. One of his best features is his answering machine, which allows Brooke to talk as long as she pleases without being cut off. So, she calls Kaz, who is never home and talks to the machine. Brooke's relationship with Kaz develops. But Brooke cannot engage completely until Jake, her dead lover, gives his blessing and says goodbye.
The journey is interestingly circuitous, if not at times somewhat misleading. I concentrated very hard on the Asian aspect, but it amounted to nothing more than colorful dreams. I couldn't figure out why Kaz needed to be half Japanese (but not visibly) other than it made for an easier transition for Brooke. Celeste N. Arias plays Brooke with cool detachment, making the judgments of her group perfectly understandable. Paulo Quiros shows reassuring presence as Kaz. And, Josh Sauerman, while not exactly somnambulate, keeps Jake dream-like.
Laura Pestronk directs with a firm hand, particularly in the group scenes where dialog overlaps and pace accounts for so much. The same should be applied to the ending, which has the audience at the finish line long before the actors.
200 Mystical Fictions is a brave, complex play about an event that is still raw, and has us, as a population, seeking normalcy on both large and small scales. Siegel's play is an honest testament to a difficult journey. I would like to think of Jake's ultimate goodbye less as a release for Brooke than as a hopeful sentiment, one which is symbolic and life affirming. A person should be able to actively engage in life without wiping a lost loved one from the memory bank. That happens only in plays.