Review by Patrick Mueller
In God’s Ear, Broken Lives Can’t Break Their Rhythms
The litanies feel endless (in a good way) – unstoppable, constant as the seasons, flowing effortlessly from the subject at hand to any cliched turn of phrase that presents itself, cycling through past references and topical inferences until the conversation has dissolved completely.
Mel and Ted, the main characters portrayed powerfully by Meredith C. Grundei and Jeremy Make in Jenny Schwartz’s God’s Ear, performed by the Catamounts at Boulder’s Dairy Center, are talking past each other anyway, too wrapped up in their own misery in the aftermath of losing their son to pay any attention to each other. Mel turns every conversation on to herself, presenting her agony from every possible angle in order to wallow more thoroughly. Ted closes himself off, desperate for comfort but unable to offer any.
Meanwhile, neither of them manages to care for their still living, still growing, still innocent and curious daughter Lanie, played by 10-year-old Kaelee Hart. Hart delivers a marvelous electricity to the dark emotional landscape of the work. Vibrant and lazer sharp, she continually demands her parents’ attention and becomes a potent reminder of the absence of her brother.
From this fairly naturalistic situation, the work fragments, tearing the fabric of reality and logic and dragging out the surreal viscera of the characters’ emotional landscapes. Conversations and settings disintegrate, one moment face to face, the next in different time-zones, one moment talking to each other, the next taking turns at deaf soliloquy, the next breaking into musical numbers of more or less topical relevance.
We encounter figures ranging from maybe-real to definitely-fantasy. A frumpy-sexy, sparkly Tooth Fairy flits and freezes through out most of the performance, sometimes prompting the characters, sometimes echoing them. GI Joe comes to life after Mel and Lanie bury his plastic form in the snow-covered garden. A transvestite airline steward(ess) gushes about his/her job while flawlessly deflecting any unhappy thoughts or questions. Two barroom apparitions haunt Ted on his endless work trips, offering to replace his wife either by supplanting her with a red-dress-clad vapid fantasy or by trading her for the hefty wife of a fellow cynical bar-fly.
The result is delicious – a dream-state where ‘reality’ become much less important than the dissection of the situation, the characters’ emotions, and the rhythms of speech and action in which the whole world seems trapped. Watching, we feel our sympathies dragged back and forth between these two broken figures as they struggle to find empathy instead of vindictive blame and mutual rejection. We sense the cleansing and invigorating power of humor, and see in the fragmention into abstraction the possibility to break the rhythms of grief, blame, and self-pity that are trapping these people.
At its heart this is a word-lovers’play, with long strings of free association, litanies that stumble across deep truths in the midst of worn out, cliched turns of phrase. The performance takes on aspects of this non-narrative flow – the rhythms of the words and the scenes, the surreal apparitions as a constant presence, the interludes of song, the moments where characters in situations mutate into aspects of a deeper meaning. As an artist committed to heightening affect through abstraction, I would love to see these mutations encompass even more of the work, taking advantage of a script that demands little progression of a narrative and instead seeks to reveal a single situation in all its gory and glorious detail. But as an audience member committed to the unique value of live theatre, I revel in the beauty and heart-wringing agony of an incredible cast offering a highly skilled, intensely personal, hugely successful performance.