Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
The Counterpoint of Humanity: A Poetic “Cassiopeia” at Boston Court
Anyone who listens to an argument between, say, a person who is religious (any faith will do) and a person who believes only in the tangible begins to realize that in its purest form the understanding of human experience contains two ends of the spectrum: pure reason, unscathed by emotional understanding, and pure heart – the way of knowing things by trusting one’s emotions. That their streams sometimes cross makes either end nervous, yet both are needed to understand the essential nature of mankind.
Come to The Theatre at Boston Court, and see just this paradox on display in “Cassiopeia”, David Wiener’s new play now in its premiere run. Here, two people – a man whose brilliance lies in equations and the absence of connection, and a woman who knows what she knows through a visceral sense of contact – offer what the playwright labels “a duet” underscoring the balance needed to be whole.
If that sounds clinical, the results are far from it. Rather, “Cassiopeia” becomes a poem, entwining language and character to create a portrait of what it is to be alive. In the hands of director Emilie Beck, the dichotomy becomes a physical divide, which ebbs and flows as much as the river which becomes their separation and their source. The battle of head and heart will leave much to be pondered: layers to peel one after another long after the play is done.
Angela Bullock is Odetta, a woman whose background has formed her as an emotional being: hardscrabble, jealous of her sister’s graces, aware of her own ugliness, completely engaged with the people of the world in which she lives. As created by Bullock, Odetta has a directness which underscores this need for connection with others, pulls her over awkwardnesses as though driven, and helps her connect the disparate input her world provides.
Doug Tompos, as Quiet, moves as one somewhat disquieted by his own body, as if the equations he can spout are more comfortable than his physicality. He cannot, he says, see faces – at least not their emotional component. He is fascinated by the stars, finding in their ancient and explainable light a kind of formula for living. He is as unselfconscious as Odetta is self conscious, to sometimes distressing result.
Aiding in their odd intermingle is PaSean Wilson, as The Voice – that beyond themselves which, in the end, binds them together. She provides setting and occasional wisdom, and embodies some of their separation, and helps create their crossing paths.
As designed, this play often also intermingles the lines of the two central characters. As a theatrical device, this helps move the piece along, but sometimes at the expense of clarity. Each story is unique and remarkable, and in the moments when the two people – explaining things at odds with one-another – drown each other out a bit, one begins to grab at the subtext, sometimes without success.
On the other hand, Stephen Gifford’s rather dadaist set, combined with Jeremy Pivnick’s surprisingly subtle lighting, combine with E.B. Brooks’ evocative costumes (most particularly a “river” of dress) to make this piece at once of this world and etherial – a neat trick. There is a poetic beauty to the look of the thing, as there is to the sound of it.
In short, “Cassiopeia” is not an easy play, but it is compelling. One cannot help but feel that one should see it at least twice, if only to absorb the two strands of the duet enough to be able to be enveloped by their counterpoint. And yet, what is life itself if not a constant, sometimes somewhat unintelligible forward movement toward something just beyond reach?
What: “Cassiopeia” When: Through February 24, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, and selected Wednesdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $34 general, $29 seniors, rush tickets available to high school students at no charge Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.bostoncourt.org