Crawl, Fade to White
nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
October 16, 2008
22 years ago, 15-year-old Louise—on a night out in a chauffeured car with her wealthy family—met Niko, a one-man animal rescue league, over the corpse of a dog hit by that car, and ran away with him. The relationship didn't last long, but long enough for Louise to get pregnant and break irrevocably with her family. Her only remaining connection with them, and with her past, is an antique glass oil lamp that she snuck back into her parents' house to steal, planning to sell it but never quite able to bring herself to part with it.
Now, after years of doing everything she can to raise money to support her daughter, April—the furniture's mostly been sold; the neighbors question why strange men enter her house by night; she's even taking on shifts at "BiggieMart"—in first boarding school and then college, the lamp is all that's left. But when Louise entrusts the lamp to her standoffish neighbors, Dan and Fran, to include in their "Fall Clearance Sale," there are two things she doesn't know: first, the brilliant but emotionally troubled April is on her way home with her equally dysfunctional boyfriend, Nolan, to repossess the lamp for herself. And second, the agoraphobic Fran, who lost two children herself many years ago and is only just now able to consider parting with a houseful of baby things, is a little obsessed with April, and only too happy to use the lamp to draw her in.
Interspersing the story of Louise and Niko's brief and tempestuous relationship (told in scenes traveling backward in time from the day Niko leaves Louise to the day they meet) with the present struggle among Louise, Dan and Fran, and Nolan over the possession of both the lamp and April, Sheila Callaghan's Crawl, Fade to White looks at the shadow cast into the present by these characters' attempts to grapple with the shards of an always-already-disappeared past. The play is full of mythic and vaguely sinister talismans of the characters' pasts: the lamp; a fading-away photograph April discovers of her father, about whom she compulsively fabricates stories of his death in the absence of real information; the stroller and heaps of baby toys Dan and Fran have stockpiled for all these years in the house Fran never leaves—even the Polaroids Fran compulsively takes of April in the few hours she spends with them, trying to cling to a present that's already fading into the past. April's obsession with the lamp and the shadow of her father she thinks she sees in a thumbprint embedded in the glass, is mirrored by her academic obsession with the behavior of light particles—particles which prove more elusive the more they are investigated, particles which ultimately prove nothing so much as the unknowability of everything.
It's a subtle play full of emotional subcurrents, in which not much happens in any literal, plot-driven way; the events of the play are really crucial shifts in the weights of emotional bonds and emotional traps among the characters—which is why it's so disappointing in an otherwise beautiful production that one central moment that should be transfigurative, that literally and metaphorically shatters the relationships in the play in a way that is both terrible and beautiful, fails theatrically. (I'm uncertain whether what I saw was a choice to represent the transfiguration by breaking out of the theatrical language of the play, or a stand-in for a piece of technical wizardry that wasn't functioning properly, but even if the latter, I think it could have been handled more effectively.)
The physical use of the space—the Ideal Glass Gallery, which bills itself as "an interdisciplinary industrial space for the development and presentation of unusual works"—is fascinating. Anna Kiraly's set mostly consists of movable corners, with openings in them for doors and windows. Continually reconfiguring the walls around both a central platform (raised over a pile of dirt and scattered baby toys) and the floor of the space, director Paul Willis uses three or four central structural elements to create a set of forever altering and slightly shifting representations of the same spaces—Dan and Fran's house, Louise's house. Dan and Fran's yard. Conversely, the closet in which Niko and Louise conducted most of their relationship (the rest of Niko's place being taken over by animals in various stages of healing) keeps moving around the space—from a second-story balcony level to the stairs down to a playing area on the main floor but outside the periphery of the action to the central platform itself; as it moves backward in time to its beginning, the incident from which everything else sprang, it weaves itself more closely physically with the rest of the play.
The ensemble, too, is strong, especially the women, each of whom seems haunted in an entirely different way. Jocelyn Kuritzky, as April, is a bundle of nervous energy with nowhere to put it; she seems easily pushed around but she also has a wiry, wily core. Carla Harting, as Louise, is holding herself and everyone around her together by sheer force of will; only in the scenes of young Louise and Niko do we see her allowed, or allowing herself, any joy. And Black-Eyed Susan, as Fran, walks a very fine line between pathos and pathetic, and makes Fran sympathetic rather than mockable.
But despite all the strong pieces, including some beautiful moments of writing, the piece as a whole didn't make a strong impact. I'm a huge fan of both 13P and Sheila Callaghan, but Crawl, Fade to White didn't quite come together for me.