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Playwrights Horizons, New York City

Its title inspires love, connection, loss, hope, fear: the work itself stirs in its audience all these ideas in the most unrelenting, heart-breaking, and powerful ways until its gut-wrenching conclusion. The scope of Craig Lucas’ intimate play of epic proportions currently at New York’s Playwrights Horizons is comparable to Angels in America, but where Kushner seemed to proclaim God is dead, Lucas is revealing that we’ve buried God alive, and that he can be resurrected.

In the writer’s room, Ash (Michael Gaston) and Astrid (Mariana Bassham) attempt to piece together a Hallmark Channel version of what happened to Ash’s son Knox (the captivating Russell Harvard). He has overcome being Deaf, being gay, and being an addict. “They are gifts…each brought me to great clarity,” he says to applause at Thanksgiving. Over the course of a single evening, it all comes crashing down. “Did you know they now think the one thing that makes us human [is] storytelling,” Astrid muses. In flashbacks, we viscerally experience the undoing, as Ash and Astrid draw parallels of his plight to the biblical Job and attempt to elevate their understanding to no avail. The deeper they seek for higher truth, the more unpleasant, albeit appropriate, the answers become: mostly the answer is no answer at all.

Lucas puts his characters and his audience through the ringer, addressing the former addict’s daily struggle against possible relapse, economic uncertainty in the face of disease, battles against depression, being gay, being Deaf and deaf, religion, existential crisis: and if this weren’t a heavy enough catalog of topics, it’s a family drama. Ambitious, but deftly and tactfully explored by this terrific ensemble and director Tyne Rafaeli’s steady direction. Jane Shaw’s sound design in particularly is just cinematic enough, and Annie Wiegand’s lighting guides the audience gracefully between the present and flashbacks.

The team expertly handles the playwright’s requirement for a “shadow” cast that performs the play’s spoken dialogue in American Sign Language (ASL) on a platform above the action. A hearing audience could watch the whole play without paying them a second glance, but Lucas seems to have a higher purpose in giving them perpetual stage time. They are never a distraction, but a constant reminder of the experience for someone else in their audience. When the distance between these two are bridged by a scene performed in ASL or in silence, the audience is transfixed together to powerful effect. Deafness in a hearing world is only one piece of this dramatic puzzle, but one that challenges the characters’ comfort zones, and inspires signing work that reads as romantic choreography as well as language.

In the end, Ash and Astrid cannot make sense of the chaos, at least not in the way they set out to. What they find, especially in the final moments, is that the answer lies less in the story itself, and more in the surrendering of control to the will of a higher power. As a result, the characters and the audience are transcended to a higher, if less expected, understanding. Count yourself lucky if you are there to witness its profundity.

  • Drama
  • By Craig Lucas
  • Directed by Tyne Rafaeli
  • Cast includes: Beth Applebaum, Mariana Bassham, Tad Cooley, Lisa Emery, Kalen Feeney, Harold Foxx, Michael Gaston, Seth Gore, Russell Harvard, Amelia Hensley, Anthony Natale, Lois Smith, Alexandria Wailes, Gameela Wright
  • Playwrights Horizons, New York City
  • Until 14 October 2018

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