nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
March 10, 2005
An existentialist will tell you that many of life’s most important questions are not approachable through reason and science. The theatre, however, is an excellent medium for addressing such questions. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s Between Worlds is a fascinating look at the questions of choice and responsibility.
Schmitt’s concept is intriguing. The play is set in a sort of metaphysical hotel that lies between life and death. The occupants of this hotel are people who have fallen into a coma. They arrive, via elevator, not knowing where they are or how they got there. It is run by a mysterious woman who goes by Dr. S. She has two angelic assistants who never speak but seem to communicate telepathically. There are two corridors in this hotel; one is marked “A” for accidental and the other is marked “D” for deliberate.
The current tenants of the hotel are from opposite points of the geopolitical spectrum. There are a successful businessman and a working class single mother, a spiritually rich fortune teller and a spiritually poor sportscaster named Colin. Colin is the new kid on the block and the fact that he is so wrapped up in himself makes the story wrap around him and his lack of faith in anything. Into his coma “life” swings Laura, who is bound to a wheelchair in the real world but is free to dance about in this world between worlds. The power of her optimism is intoxicating to Colin and he falls in love with Laura in record time.
As the plot unfolds we learn that Laura is in desperate need of a heart transplant. So it becomes a matter of which one of these half-dead people is going to give up their heart. Dr. S, who is controlled by some unnamable force (maybe it’s God and maybe not), is not allowed to interfere with the choices of her guests. Hence, she is reluctant to initiate any action towards helping Laura because, as she puts it, she can’t “break the rules.”
Similarly, Schmitt’s characters are ruled by the playwright’s existentialist musings. Schmitt raises some very interesting questions but he doesn’t weave these questions into the personalities of his characters. At times the play feels like an existential check list.
However, from what I could gather, Between Worlds boils down to the question of choice and our commitment to a given choice. Colin, for example, is placed in the “deliberate” corridor because he was driving drunk when he wrecked his car. Crashing his car into a tree was an accident but being a drunk for most of his life is a choice for which he must take responsibility. Schmitt seems to be implying that it is our choices that form who we are. Because we are free to choose, Schmitt argues, we must accept the risk and the responsibility of our choices by following them wherever they may lead.
The cast—Sara Barker, Max Evjen, Patrick Jones, T. Scott Lilly, Dana Panepinto, Andrea Seigel, Jennifer Shirley and Jennifer Wintzer—all make some good character choices and it is plain to see that they all worked very hard on their roles. All the actors in the show are also public school teachers. The producing company, Chekhov Theatre Ensemble, is a branch of a company called Stages of Learning which produces educational theatre programs for school children. The object is to provide the actor/teachers with authentic experiences from which to teach. I believe this is a very noble goal. In fact, every ticket you buy goes towards supporting the creation of programs designed to teach children using the theatre form. That alone is a good reason to see this play.
Another good reason is that, for the most part, technically the play is well executed. Russel Drapkin’s light design is gorgeous and the set design, provided by Timothy Mackabee, elicits the sterile world of the play to a "T." Margaret Pine’s sound design, while slightly intrusive, well establishes the mood of the play. Kristine Koury’s costumes are good, though I couldn’t figure out why Dr. S is dressed like she just fell out of an '80s dance club. Ragnar Freidank’s direction is decent but there are some pacing problems that made this two hour show feel a bitlonger than it actually is.
Ultimately, Schmitt is an insightful and intelligent writer and his play is as full of hope as it is full of heady philosophical questions. Schmitt wisely leaves many of these questions for us to answer.