nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
June 17, 2008
If you've ever stared long and hard at an abstract painting and tried, repeatedly, to extract some clear meaning from it, you might have a similar experience with Birthtaint, which premiered this week as part of The Film Festival: A Theater Festival. Seated inside the deceivingly large Brick Theater, deep in the heart of Williamsburg, amongst an audience of young renegades swigging Yuenglings, one might expect an evening of the unconventional.
After watching a trailer for another of the festival's shows (a genius way to promote theater in this day and age—why haven't we thought of this before?), our focus shifts to the stage, a living room set up with a television made to look like a window overlooking a distant cliff. Whether this is a makeshift window or a statement about the artifice of nature is not entirely clear; nonetheless, the concept is interesting.
A story unfolds between Daniel and Dawn, two misfits: a guy with an abnormally large head, impressively designed by Mark Sitko, and a young woman with a grotesque, purple "birthtaint" on the skin of her leg. Andrew Gilchrist, who plays Daniel (and wrote the play), and Vanessa Sparling, in the role of Dawn, portray two very peculiar characters, who seem to mirror each other's fear of unrealized dreams and alienation from the rest of the world.
Everything is strange about this play, but there doesn't seem to be an outside world that suggests anything should be otherwise. Perhaps Birthtaint is inspired by existentialist or surrealist theatre. Dawn and Daniel, as do the rest of the characters in this play, speak a sort of rhythmic dialogue, never fully engaging or making eye contact with the other, as though waltzing around a vacant orb. In one scene, a number of characters suddenly appear onstage, all of whom seem to be a part of Dawn's family, though except for Dawn's father it's never clear who they are. Aside from him, these characters don't add much to the play, except for occasional witty dialogue and a memorable monologue from Lucy Kaminsky as Clara.
Suddenly inspired by Daniel, Dawn writes a play entitled "610" for a theatre that he has built atop the cliff outside the window. With the clever sound of a typewriter for the backdrop, Dawn's play is projected onto the white screen in back, as though we are watching a silent film with subtitles. The use of the film to enact Dawn's play, and earlier as a rendition of a skewed portrait Dawn's father paints, adds an interesting visual dimension of theatricality. And the uncanny musical score of Birthtaint, by Benjamin Manglos, is transporting and plays a central role in creating the mood for this play.
Sparling is quite compelling as Dawn when she must face the fact that her birthtaint has spread all over her body. It's painful to watch her suffer, especially when she seeks solace from her father, who doesn't do much to comfort her and seems to merely go through words and motions as he watches this monstrosity slowly destroying his daughter. When Daniel suddenly appears at Dawn's side, after a long absence, it seems there might be light at the end of the tunnel. But plays like this don't have happy endings. In the end, nothing is resolved, and we are left to merely sit and ponder the misfortune of these two tainted beings.