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Evolution—Not a Simple Thing

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A really cleverly staged, but meandering concept piece (really, 60 minutes would’ve been fine!) Evolution explores the natural, often difficult imperative of being what or who you are. Its smart, imaginative creator, Patricia Buckley, plays three generations of a family coping with deep seated instincts that go against normal socialization.

Minnie has been ill for some time. She reacts peculiarly around water, is accident prone, and somewhat glazed over, simply cannot adapt to the world in which she finds herself. A Dagwood concoction of humorously named medications seem unable to stabilize the young woman. When Minnie’s not in hospital, she lives with her devoted mother who, oblivious to the fourth wall, reflects and gossips. Mom feels she’s the only one who can ultimately care for Minnie, even going so far as to research surveillance equipment for the girl’s own safety. Pammy, the second daughter, is a high powered paleontologist. Busy as she is, her sister becomes a priority with the occurrence of another incident. When Pammy talks to Minnie about their childhood, we gain insights into the beginnings of this particular evolutionary process.

Though the plot holds no surprises except some marvelously intriguing facts about the evolutionary process and whales in particular, the multi-media eloquence with which it’s supported and illustrated is captivating. A kind of Joseph Cornell compartmentalized box serves as the backdrop, each segmented area containing a prop which is utilized and returned. When Minnie takes a shower behind a drawn curtain, projections create unexpected shadows. The roof of a cardboard house is removed so that Pammy can go home to visit. Transit by car is depicted by moving a toy across a miniature set simultaneously projected larger on the walls. There are fossil bones, a scaled down refrigerator, a crutch whose theft is slightly nutty, and a suitcase whose content is inspired.

Additional projections are so integral and effective one might call them a valued cast member. These are attributed to Scenic and Video Designer, Jim Findlay, whose technical prowess is matched by interpretive visual finesse. While some images are literal, others imply. Both work seamlessly to enrich and clarify. The “Cornell” is wonderful; use of the curtain adds dimensionality.

Music by Marc Mellits is spacey and original. As any which becomes symbiotic, sometimes you’ll be aware of it, sometimes you won’t. Familiar, well chosen tunes additionally add humor.

Director Michele Chivu keeps things moving and distinctive as her characters morph into one another. When faced with a clever prop, she knows exactly how to make the most of it.

Patricia Buckley has dramatized an intriguing reality. (I’d be interested in what Buckley comes up with next). The three women (with brief appearance by a nurse) serve to flesh out Minnie’s plight, symbolic of an ever continuing push-pull by nature. Characters are defined, speech feels specifically attributable. Some monologues seem like jazz riffs—improvised around a core melody. Entertaining as the production is, without further plot development, the piece is too long by twenty minutes.

Photo credit Russ Rowland

Evolution
Sponsored by The Redhouse Arts Center
Developed and Produced by Cherry Lane Mentor Project
Written and Performed by Patricia Buckley
Additional Dramaturgy–Leslie Noble
Directed by Michele Chivu
59 East 59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
212-279-4200
Through May 20, 2012

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