nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
May 15, 2006
Gary Winter’s At Said is a play about writing. Perhaps. It’s hard to say—as hard as it is for the characters themselves to reflect upon their own lives. In fact, that actually may be the point.
Mother and daughter (Anita Hollander and Lia Aprile) live in a small tenement apartment. Neither one works—neither has any marketable skills, nor have they any way of getting to and from any job. Moreover, Darra, the daughter, is simply too afraid to leave the building, while Sybil, the mother, may be coping with scars from her childhood in a war-torn country. They have spent the last several years living off the “check” they get every month, killing time how they can and getting whatever small luxuries they can afford. In the first scene, Sybil reveals the latest—an old typewriter, salvaged from a junkyard. She tells Darra that she plans to finally put her stories about the past onto paper.
Everyone around Sybil is threatened by her plan. Darra is terrified of what could happen when everything in her mother’s head comes out. Her sometimes-boyfriend Will (Vedant Gokhale) is equally concerned for Darra, and is also strangely threatened by the very idea of writing about one’s self. The most urgent warnings come from the super, Mr. Carlos (Gilbert Cruz), who also used to write when he was in his own homeland—“but they found out.” After their threats, he is too afraid to write any more. Writing is dangerous, they tell Sybil. She could get hurt. But she persists, inspiring Darra and Will to each make their own cautious attempts at writing. Their attempts, though, are too scary to handle, and they do end up hurt at the end.
The language is very dense in places. Everyone speaks in generalities: you never learn the name of Sybil’s homeland, nor of Mr. Carlos’s. Sybil and Darra are not living on welfare, they get “the check.” Darra’s best friend Alex Marbles (Marisa Echeverria) attends “the community college,” but you never learn what community and what college. The characters also keep circling back to the same points and thoughts over and over: Darra insists that her mother is doing something dangerous, but every time Will offers to get rid of the typewriter, she stops him. Then five minutes later, she speaks about being in danger again. Even Sybil’s memoirs revisit the same fleeting details over and over—a waterfall, ringing the bell on her bicycle, a truck, a locked gate, burying people in the forest.
The opacity can be frustrating at times; for a long time I wondered of Darra, “who is this person? What does she want?” It gradually becomes clear, in its own way, that this is the point—these people not only don’t know who they were and what they want, they are too afraid to find out, but are eager to find out at the same time, so they keep circling themselves warily. Will in particular is so afraid that he moves to stop Darra from making some small brave steps towards the end.
The performances are all finely nuanced. Aprile has near-perfect chemistry with everyone on the stage, and she and Gokhale both avoid letting their characters slip into melodrama. Hollander and Cruz are also disarmingly matter-of-fact; you can see there was long-ago pain in them both, but it’s too long ago and buried too deep, and in the case of Cruz’s Mr. Carlos, you can see he thinks it’s not worth the bother of stirring it up. Except—sometimes you see he wishes he did. Director Tim Farrell wisely focuses on the nuances of the performance and on simplifying the set; the text is so dense that a complicated production would have obscured things even further.
At Said is dense and hard to follow at times—just as are any of our inner selves. Perhaps that finally is the point.