Are We Here Yet?
nytheatre.com review by Nathaniel Kressen
July 15, 2010
Are We Here Yet? begins with a young man playing soccer, absently dribbling the ball in laps around the stage, lulling us into the slow, soft rhythm of the play. An old man enters, crosses to a chair in his own time, fails to get up again, and calls weakly for help. No one answers. All of a sudden the mundane turns dangerous. A normal stroll threatens to have lasting consequences. When at last the young man returns, it truly seems like pure chance. The message? No matter how surrounded we may feel living in contemporary America, we are still isolated until a chance encounter revives us.
Inspired by afternoons spent by the ensemble in Riverside Park, the play imagines the unexpressed life behind everyday interactions. This approach is surely not a new one. Many devised pieces spring from witnessing and dramatizing real life. However this company's choice of focus is refreshingly original. Instead of shaping storylines, they explore characters as if in a void, each with their own distinctive way of viewing the world around them.
One young woman draws mint leaves from her pocket as a gift, and speaks of making artworks out of intangible materials (i.e., sunlight and wind). Another binds her hand to discover what it might be like living without her left thumb. Siblings compare notes on dating the blind versus dating the deaf. A fiction writer repeats the same passage to restless fans, which ironically states she has nothing left to say. A local politician impatiently refuses to speak on policy, but rather on humanity's need for connection. All the while these people drift in and out of each other's private moments, lost in their own thoughts, unable or unwilling to see the opportunities right in front of them.
Director Anna Brenner allows the play to move slowly, yet rarely lets it drag. Only one sequence feels unnecessarily theatrical, during which the company performs choreography, intoned lyrics, and sign language as cued by a television screen rolled onstage. Otherwise the ensemble creates a credible world in which no great conclusions are drawn, nor need to be.
The cast is committed and capable, although performances range in specificity and degree of naturalism. Of the four performers, Rachael Richman is notably engaging, doubling as the old man and the artist of intangible materials. In full control of her voice and movement, she is able to convey each of her characters' frailties in heartbreaking detail.
I was pleased to have caught this production, now in its second incarnation. If revived for a third run, I would suggest either cutting the mock grass flooring altogether or investing in better materials. As a first impression to audience members, it cheapens the show to come. There is some excellent work being done here, and it deserves the proper framing.