Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The arrangement bears explaining. Upon entering the theater, audience members are given a headset to wear, tuned to follow Bea at age 28 or Bea at age 58. The audience is seated in two concentric semi-circles divided into halves. One half hears and watches the older Bea, while the other half, seated on the other side of the stage, hear and watch young Bea. The headset broadcasts the characters interior thoughts, as well as dialogue spoken aloud by Bea and other characters. We are watching Bea at one age, though she talks about herself at the other age, so we have clues as to what is going on across the stage. Clues, but not certaintyjust as our memories of our past selves are haze, and our projections of our future selves are speculative.
I followed the older Bea and heard her ruminate about getting older, the state of her still-fit, though no longer spry body, the task of packing to move out of her large house into an urban condo now that she is living alone. Looming over all of these thoughts are her feelings about reading her mother's journal, first given to her about 30 years ago, 20 years after her mother's death when Bea was just 8. Unready at 28 to open this portal into her mother's private life, Bea wrapped it up with a note that said "open in thirty years". Those thirty years have passed, but Bea is still uneasy with the journal.
Bea dashes off to meet her young adult daughter Sasha for a birthday lunch at a neighborhood bistro. Sasha encourages Bea to embrace the changes in her life. While Bea tells her about the journal, I glance across the room and see young Bea sitting at a similar bistro table receiving the journal for the first time, though we can't hear her response. Later, Bea, caught in a rainstorm and dashing into a coffee shop, recalls a similar coffee shop into which she dashed thirty years before, profoundly changing her life. While older Bea remembers this, it is enacted by younger Bea, and we are able to hear her small talk with a sweet, self-deprecating server named Paul.
Up to this point, the story is totally plausible, even if we only receive it in its past or present. Now, the play shifts gears and we enter a new dimension in which the two Beas connect across the thirty years that separate them. They ponder one another, seeking to understand the bridge of life that connects them. They are visited by a trio of rabbis who dispense pearls of wisdom that answer none of their questions. Eventually they come together through their love of movies, a love that was passed on to Bea by her mother. Older and younger Bea return to real time, as they must, and I saw how Bea at 58 took the next steps into her life. As for Bea at 28, I don't know what she did next ... but I can tell you the state of her life 30 years later.
Not a lot happens in While You Were Out, but a lot is thought about, felt, wondered, imagined, remembered and judged. Can you remember your major concerns and on what basis you made vital decisions about your life a year ago? How about five years ago? Ten? Thirty? Can you speculate ahead by those same increments? The further forward or back we go, the foggier is the picture in our mind's eye, and the more we are inclined to add imagination and wistfulness to compete the picture. Dolan and Finn have created a fantasy of a woman able to see herself thirty years in the past or future with complete lucidity
In putting this fascinating notion on the stage, Hayley Finn has written a script that sounds like authentic speech, both in interior dialogue and spoken conversation. She also captures how we listen to one another with insight and humor. At one point, older Bea zones out, thinking the most mundane interior thoughts (which we hear) while Sasha is on a roll, talking about the Kabbalah (the ancient compilation of Jewish mysticism and wisdom plays a part in Bea's journey). I can only assume that the dialogue given to 28-year-old Bea is as well written as her 58-year-old self. Some things are never fully explained, like why Bea, depicted at age 58 as a strong and intelligent woman, would still be so uncomfortable with her mother's journal. Of course, people often have limits to what they can or are willing to do that defy understanding, and not knowing the cause does not make them less real.
Maggie Bearmon Pistner plays Older Bea with perfect pitch. She invests her dialogue, whether spoken or thought, with depth of feeling, expressing the weariness of living through a major life ordeal, the cautious optimism of possibilities for the next chapter of her life, and wistfulness over the hopes and ambitions of the past, some realized, others vanished. Maeve Moynihan as Younger Bea captures the hopefulness of her youth and projects an inner strength that signifies she will endure whatever lies in her path. The two relate beautifully to one another in their shared moments, awestruck by their common yet changed natures.
Megan Burns projects youthful enthusiasm being shaped by rising maturity as Sasha. Ricardo Beaird is aptly sweet as Paul, and Silas Sellnow sings beautifully as a theater usher from another dimension. Chloe Armao makes a winning appearance as Bea's mom, and Robert Rosen gives effective voice to Bea's distracted father. Miriam Must completes the ensemble, though I did not hear her as Aunt Ronnie in younger Bea's track. Burns, Must and Rosen also play the rabbis, who, with their conflicting advice, come across as a comic cabal.
While You Were Out starts off as a very stripped down affair, but becomes more complicated with a downpour of tennis balls and the screening of a film classic as part of the show, along with effective sound design by Peter Morrow and lighting that guides us through the changing dimensions, designed by Megan Reilly. As directors, Dolan and Finn handle the naturalistic scenes skillfully, though some of the fantastic sequences, such as those with the rabbis, lack clarity in their connection to Bea's life and come across a silliness.
The use of the headset technology allows dual stories to be told from the same stage, though an audience member will only be immersed in one of those two. The real payoff comes when the two tracks merge, and we watch young and old Bea, one woman divided by three decades, seek a unified vision of her own life. It is rather stunning. It also begs the question, what value does this have for either of them? What value would such an opportunity have for you? If we could revisit ourselves of thirty years past, or see ourselves thirty years ahead, would we? Your answer might be altered by watching While You Were Out, a play that raises powerful questions about who we were, who we are, and who we are becoming.
While You Were Out continues through April 30, 2017, at the Red Eye Theater, 15 West 14th Street, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $15.00 - $20.00, Students with ID - $8.00. For tickets call 612-870-0309 or go to redeyetheater.org.
Conceived and directed by: Andrew Dolan and Hayley Finn; Playwright: Haley Finn; Set Design: Andrew Dolan; Costume Designer: Liz Josheff; Lighting Designer: Megan Reilly; Sound Design: Peter Morrow; Projection Designer: Andrew Welken; Stage Manager: Kristian Piña.
Cast: Chloe Armao (Mom), Ricardo Beaird (Paul/Doctor/Ensemble), Megan Burns (Sasha/Rabbi/Ensemble), Maeve Moynihan (Younger Bea), Miriam Must (Ronnie/Rabbi/Ensemble), Maggie Bearmon Pistner (Older Bea), Robert Rosen (Dad/Rabbi/Ensemble), Silas Sellnow (Charlie/Movie Usher/Ensemble).