The experimental literary tradition at Theatre Y often leads to works of aesthetic and philosophical rigor. Within each, the company explores stories (or anti-stories) that demand extreme physicality and internality from their performers while the exterior trappings are sparse or even brutal. Take for example the simple curtain and empty stage of last year’s “Self-Accusation” or the rolling wave of prostrate bodies in 2018’s “Stories of the Bodies.” The result is often simple and expansive at the same time. Their ensembles produce generous performances that present the vast geography of singular consciousnesses while never being illustrative or opulent. At the end of the day, what do we have to tell these stories except raw human material? This is the thesis behind much of Theatre Y’s work.
András Visky’s “Juliet,” directed by Kevin Smith, is, textually, no different. Based on the events of Visky’s early life, it describes the political exile of his mother and her seven children to the wilderness of Romania. Artistic director Melissa Lorraine carries this show on her back as Julia, the mother of seven, who debates with god over the viciousness of blessing her with seven children while the house they’ve been condemned to is an insult to houses. She cries for her arrested husband. What do they eat? Alfalfa. Bread. Soup. Sure, call it a soup. At some point, she says to her children, “Don’t worry. Our house is as big as a coffin.” She has a heart attack. Wakes up in the morgue three days later. Grim. Desolate.
The space the audience inhabits is different from Lorraine’s freewheeling, fragmentary monologue. We’re treated to luxurious crimson velvet, finely crafted lamps and wooden benches. (These benches are not comfortable; be sure to use your coat as a pillow). There’s a chorus of mothers with their babies—live babies! in a theater!—who pull back curtains and wander about the space absently. I’m pretty sure one of the babies pooped during the preshow; all three mothers whispered onstage and cradled their children.
“Juliet” is not impossible to appreciate: the initial moments of Julia awaking feel transformative, an inhalation toward clarity. There is beauty slogged into nooks of the show. But soon thereafter, opacity sets in and undermines Lorraine’s work, scattering her usually impeccable and compassionate presence into incoherence, while the central focus on motherhood stretches like a too-small blanket, leaving our feet exposed. It’s a lull after a bit, while we contemplate what sort of god would leave her to this fate and what kind of despair she feels for her husband, both onset by political upheaval. Yet the design and direction point us toward her role as a mother exclusively.
This perspective is not invalid, though it’s a reduction instead of a distillation. As the third iteration of the show, maybe this angle was overdue, but as a first-time viewer and general enthusiast of the company, “motherhood” without intersection or other vocabularies is, as a dramatic or thematic question, incomplete. (Persephone Jones)
Theatre Y at The Ready, 4546 North Western, (773)908-2248, theatre-y.com, Free. Through February 16.