Before Your Very Eyes
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 20, 2010
Before Your Very Eyes, the new play written and directed by Edward Elefterion and presented by Rabbit Hole Ensemble, begins in the dark with the all-too-familiar sounds of 9/11: the World Trade Center has been hit, and we hear the sounds of the fire and the pandemonium that almost all of us heard, for real, the first time. From the chaotic blur of noise we start to make out a man's voice. He is leaving a message on his wife's phone. The last thing he says to her is "We're flying...we're flying..."—and then the connection breaks.
The lights come up on two women, Kate and Evonne. Kate is listening to the message, which is from Erik, Evonne's husband. And when she's finished, she tells Evonne never to listen to it. She says to her friend: this is not a memory you ever want to have.
This profound idea is at the heart of Before Your Very Eyes. Through the stories of three couples, Elefterion explores the effects of the un-looked-for horrific memories of that terrible day. Evonne seeks the closure that can only come from tangible evidence of Erik's death, but she also wants to disappear, as he seems to have done. Kate wants to understand what her husband, John, went through on 9/11 (where he was a witness at the World Trade Center; he comes home covered in blood and she wants to know whose blood it is). And Amir and Lakshmi, two Indian Americans who were near enough to take photographs of the disaster, have to deal with the strange evidence that their camera seems to have revealed.
Amir and Lakshmi eventually become convinced that airplanes did not hit the towers; their story becomes the stuff of a suspense thriller, taking the play into the realm of what most people would probably consider conspiracy theory, shifting the focus of the piece somewhat from the powerful idea at its center of choosing which memories to keep and which memories to discard.
The play proceeds swiftly and often harrowingly under Elefterion's taut direction; design elements, as is Rabbit Hole's custom, are minimal but used extremely well. The five actors are all effective: Elyse Knight as Kate is the play's emotional anchor, with Damon Pooser (John) and Diana DeLaCruz (Evonne) providing counterpoint to her place as, essentially, our guide into the story. Bobby Abido and Sanam Erfani deliver earnest and urgent performances as Amir and Lakshmi.
Because the play deals with events that are very familiar to most New Yorkers (maybe too familiar), reactions to it are likely to be visceral and personal; I know mine was. I was extremely glad to stay for the talkback—there's one after each performance, featuring Elefterion and the ensemble—because the issues of the play really do bear discussion. I was very impressed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of the company as they explored the play with audience members for nearly an hour afterward.