Out of sight, out of mind.
This quaint saying suggests that if you do not see someone or something with frequency, you will soon stop thinking about them. Lauren Yee’s new play “in a word,” in production at Cleveland Public Theatre, suggests an alternative and significantly more disturbing meaning.
Two years have passed since Fiona’s adopted seven-year-old son mysteriously disappeared from the car while she ran into a gas station for a quick purchase. Her husband Guy has been trying hard to get over, get around and get through this traumatic event, but she cannot let it go. She is obsessed by it. Lost in it.
Out of sight, out of mind.
And to demonstrate just how lost Fiona has become, the playwright takes us on an absurdist, one-act journey into her insanity.
Time bends, logic buckles and reality phases in and out of existence as Fiona relives each nightmarish moment leading up to and in the aftermath of Tristan’s disappearance. She cannot describe in a word her numbing grief. She is incapable of keeping the wrong words from bubbling to the surface and common phrases from morphing into something unfamiliar and incorrect. Misunderstanding and frustration run rampant. Awkward silence lingers.
Unable to come to terms with her overwhelming guilt, Fiona reinvents and distorts memories, which play out before us.
Unable to deal with her emotions and hurtful remembrances, she places them in storage in mason jars. The set, designed by director Beth Wood and lighting designer Benjamin Gantose, is nothing more than a white couch surrounded by white shelves and storage bins layered with jars that have been filled with thoughts, feelings and memories best left for later. Suspended window panes, covered with newspaper, allow only shadows and Sam Fisher’s haunting soundscape to infiltrate the performance space.
While the subject matter explored in this play is weighty and disturbing, this production is a remarkably engaging and brilliantly orchestrated series of images. And it is surprisingly buoyant thanks to superb performers who have mastered the playwright’s complex wordplay and found the dark humor in the deepest recesses of this intriguing work.
Liz Conway turns in a textured and beautifully detailed performance as Fiona. Her character’s pain is so all-encompassing and palpable that it infects the audience upon her entrance. And because she never leaves the stage, neither does its presence and power.
Mark Rabant, as Guy, rides the rhythms of this lyrical work, which allows him to play a complementary role in Fiona’s fanciful visions while serving as an essential and relatable counterpoint. He does both brilliantly.
As Tristan, the elementary school principal, a detective, a stranger and Guy’s best friend, Matt O’Shea demonstrates not only his dexterity but his skill at imbuing each character with a disturbing edge that reminds us that they are merely Fiona’s guilt-ridden reflections. His talent shines through each costume change.
“in a word” is associated with the National New Play Network, which means that the playwright developed this work with multiple creative teams in the different communities that will also be staging a premiere production. In addition to Cleveland Public Theatre, a variation of this play will be in production at San Francisco Playhouse, Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company in San Diego, and Strawdog Theatre Company in Chicago.
During the production process at each theater, the playwright works on the script and makes adjustments based on what has been learned from each previous premiere. According to Wood, a revision of the play was given to the CPT ensemble as recently as the Tuesday before opening.
Judging from the opening Saturday night performance, no further revisions are necessary.
WHAT: “in a word”
WHERE: Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, Gordon Square
WHEN: Through May 2
TICKETS & INFO: $12 – $28. Call 216-631-2727 x501, or visit cptonline.org.