nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
August 21, 2013
A scene from unbidden
Geneticist Julia Lamb, the woman at the center of Joanne Hudson’s Unbidden, is something of a mess. While researching a study into the human genome, Julia (Chelsea Leigh Barrett) first sells out her colleague and boyfriend Floyd (Thomas Burns Scully), by reporting his findings to their ambitious boss Jack Strauss (Jason Gray), who is notorious for stealing other researchers’ work.
“It’s protocol” to tell Strauss of their findings, she insists – but “protocol” doesn’t stop her from secretly using her own DNA as part of her samples, and it doesn’t stop her from convincing their lab assistant Finnur (Darius Copland) to hack into their project’s data banks when she learns her own DNA is strikingly similar to that of another anonymous donor’s. Jack seems to know all about it, but is also enamored of her and lets her get away with it – but not without taunting her that he knows. Julia is also being tormented by an Icelandic rock sprite named Sigga (Natalie Leonard) and by the discovery that she may have early-onset Alzheimer’s.
The Alzheimer’s informs Hudson’s structure for the play – it is meant to be a memory piece, Julia’s thinking things through after she has left the project to live in a self-adopted exile in Iceland. She often addresses the audience, speculating on science matters or on her own life. Snips of dialogue repeat themselves from one scene to another, or sometimes within the same scene. Sigga flits in and out of the action, cracking jokes or commenting on the action. There are even dance breaks – an argument between Julia and Strauss suddenly ends with Julia blowing soap bubbles as Strauss and Finnur march about the stage to the tune of a Prince song.
Unfortunately, it is not made clear that this is a memory play, so much of the repetitive dialogue and odd behavior comes across not as “a failing mind trying to process memory” but as simply “oddness for its own sake”. Or, some of the symbolism smacks of triteness – Julia showing us a tangled mass of twine while she discusses “string theory” – rather than a disordered mind’s attempt to make sense of things.
Still, there’s certainly some inventive bits in the script. And Natalie Leonard seems to have special fun as Sigga, and then later as Erna, the prickly Icelandic native Julia may be connected to. Some larger or earlier hints as to the show’s context, though, could certainly have spared no small bit of confusion.