Review: In Clare Barron’s ‘Shhhh’, Body Memoirs Staged

To get to your seat, you walk past someone’s restroom, next to their sink, with bottles of their medicine on a shelf above them.

It’s hard to get closer than that.

And that’s exactly what”Whist“Manage to do. The new play, written, directed by Clare Barron and starring the lead actor, is clear-cut and at times offensive, but all with good reason.

Arnulfo Maldonado’s subtle design for the show, which opened Monday at Atlantic Theater Company’s Stage 2, really makes the space feel more like an apartment converted into a theater than it opposite. Left the bathroom stage there. And in one corner, partially obscured by the wall, a mattress lay on the floor, sheets messy above. Candles and pendant lights create a glamorous atmosphere, but industrial-looking metal wheelchairs add an interesting edge. And the audience in the first few rows sat on cushions on the floor, expanding the cozy space.

“Shhhh” begins with Sally (whose name is Witch Witch on the show and performed by Constance Shulman) recording an ASMR meditation. Its sound is disturbing. Shulman’s signature hoarse voice seemed to fill the air as she recounted what she was doing – she talked about the Lysol wipes she was using when we heard the sound of the cloth moving, amplified by a microphone and she tapped a porcelain cup with her fingernails, telling us it was filled with lavender tea. She spoke slowly, stretching the syllables of each word to the point where they could reach from the theater, in Chelsea, to the East River. (Sinan Refik Zafar’s crisp sound design.)

Sally, a postal worker, says her job makes her feel close to people, even though that closeness isn’t real. She dates Penny (Janice Amaya), an extraordinary person who shares that they feel most comfortable and in control of their bodies during sex parties.

Sally’s sister is Shareen (Barron), a playwright with many “health works” who has a dependent and often disagreeable relationship with a male friend, Kyle (Greg Keller).

And Francis (Nina Grollman) and Sandra (Annie Fang), ah, two random young women talking about body control and consent in a pizzeria as Shareen, sitting at another table, listens in silence. .

“Whist!” without a traditional story; no villains, and not much sense of causality between scenes. The work itself has the feeling of a series of flirtations: annoyance, attack, insecurity and sadness talked about and alluded to, but not in detail. We do not take back stories or explainers. We just understand how these people speak and move and touch in relation to each other. It said that most of the sexual acts mentioned were those of penetration and ejaculation but less often about simple pleasurable things like a caress or a kiss.

The conversations these characters have are visceral: They talk about gushing wounds, sheets full of feces, bodily fluids of all sorts. While this should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Barron’s works, which include “I will never love again“And Pulitzer Prize Finalist”Dance Nation. “She specializes in writing what are essentially staged memoirs about the body. Barron rarely chooses the romantic idea of ​​pleasure, instead considering pleasure tied to physical violence and emotional manipulation, shame, self-esteem, and trauma. The entire production process throbs with a speechless loneliness.

That pain came in Barron’s direction, but also in performances, led by Barron himself, who enveloped Shareen in a thin melancholy. Her gaze seemed to drift into the distance serenely but without satisfaction. She seems unsteady. However, her moodiness also signals an intense hunger; During the show, Shareen plays with his food, pressing the tips of his fingers into crumbs, crumbs, and crumbs on a plate or table and bringing them to his mouth almost compulsively. The characters move spontaneously – in the way they lean over or cross their legs – and seem to cross the distances that separate them cautiously, as if wading across a river to reach the other side.

Keller is believed to be a friend of the guy who soon realizes he may be responsible for some suspicious behavior in the bedroom, and Grollman, Fang, and Amaya, who are dressed in eclectic fashions. of the show (the satisfyingly weird costume design was by Kaye Voyce), delivering top-notch performances in small roles. Shulman is less convincing as Shareen’s older sister, said to be only two years younger, despite the nearly 30-year age gap between the two actresses. Shulman’s monotonous tunic was at first a novelty comic that helped bring many jokes together, but this delivery, dry like a dust storm in the desert, became tiresome.

The other problem is the erratic pacing of the show. Both a Looney Tunes-style chase scene and a mystical ritual feel unmistakable. While other scenes are too short, and characters lack depth. Amaya have a sparkling energy, but their personality is less developed than others. And Francis and Sandra’s characters only speak in one scene, in the pizza shop, though the dialogue is incredibly engaging: frank exchanges about what it’s like to be a woman in today’s dating world. modern and romantic metaphors of isolation and lust. I could have watched the entire program of this conversation.

I entered this show expecting the grotesque and maybe even gratuitous, especially when I came across a sign in the theater warning the audience about nudity and the content of the play. Nothing provokes or offends me, not even Shareen’s description of her diarrhea or seeing a used DivaCup. (I can’t say the same for the others, especially the three viewers who left early in the show and never returned.)

But then there was a moment that involved me, when Francis and Sandra were talking about how the men they dated manipulated how they got what they wanted, such as unprotected sex. . When Francis recounted the drunken negotiation she had with a guy, my body froze. The exchange was so familiar; it reminds me of my own difficult encounter with a date.

While that moment on the show might have made me feel uncomfortable, I’m also grateful for the scene, and even for the gritty feeling it inspires – the stage makes it difficult for us at times. bear. After all, the closest things we can hope for, as spectators, are the things we build between the seats and the stage.

Through February 20 at Atlantic Stage 2, Manhattan; Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. Review: In Clare Barron’s ‘Shhhh’, Body Memoirs Staged

Fry Electronics Team

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