Touch – What Is It To Connect?
Touch-come so close to (an object) as to be or come into contact with it
Touching-arousing strong feelings of sympathy, appreciation, or gratitude
“I was taking physics-again…for the fourth time” the solitary Kyle (Pete McElligot) begins as he packs cardboard boxes. Earth science is limiting, chemistry works only once, but physics you can take over and over and the world keeps opening. Zoe wandered into the classroom by mistake. She was not thin, wore too much makeup and an outrageous hat, but he knew.
There’s no fourth wall in much of this production. Memories are not so much related as inhabited and replayed. We experience connection that’s half deer in headlights and half gravitational imperative on his side and arms wide recognition on hers. “God, don’t science guys kiss girls?!” It has charm without being saccharine. When Kyle, almost shrugging, says, “We got married” the fact happily lands like a feather.
Zoe collects people and believes in the spirit. She shepherds Kyle into the world. Excited by science, he becomes an astronomer. “What’s real and true is so much more fantastically beautiful.” Still, he believes there’s life elsewhere in the universe and refers to Keats as “the” poet. They’re soulmates, yet wisely (here) not without incident and issues.
“One month before our 6th anniversary, Zoe went out and didn’t come back…she kissed me, thank God, and she left…(to buy whipped cream)… I let her go out alone…” “Stop that!” commands Bennie (Amadeo Fusca) the protagonist’s lifelong only friend, as he enters. We can feel Kyle’s pain and guilt. The pivotal disappearance scene is chronicled. Zoe’s sister Serena (Emily Batsford) and Bennie were arguing about something with Kyle when Zoe left. The three hardly noticed her exit. Then suddenly…
Amadeo Fusca and Emily Batsford
Spoiler alert- Zoe’s dead. Harrowing specifics are revealed over time from the police through Bennie to Kyle as the latter cuts himself off from everyone (including both families) associated with the tragedy. “I prefer to think about black holes.” The only human contact he maintains to keep himself from complete freefall is to say the least unexpected. It involves Kathleen (Katrina Lenk).
Kyle’s trajectory is vivid, sometimes gut-wrenching, and later, surprising. He can’t bear to be touched after Zoe’s disappearance-thus, the double entendre title. Engrossing re-entry (redemption) features a questionable confrontation but is otherwise plausible.
Pete McElligot and Katrina Kenk
Playwright Toni Press-Coffman infuses several difficult passages with humor (watch for the condoms) or takes us aside to illuminate earlier, lighter events. Astronomical states pepper the piece as metaphors with grace and purpose. They come trippingly off Kyle’s tongue, always in context. Relationships are layered and believable. The author manages to turn the story upside-down, closing with a shimmering, hopeful moment. Though it could be a bit shorter, the play will hold you fast. You may wince, grin, and tear up.
Director Nathaniel Shaw has done a splendid job with both staging and characterization. As he tells us about a party, Kyle picks up and discards an empty Chinese food container. The gestured description of a hat is idiosyncratic in its shape. Awkwardness affects every nerve; thrill is tangible; emptiness haunting. Bennie’s extensive use of gestures reflects his Italian upbringing. His entrances are usefully jarring as are those of Kathleen. The latter’s posture is as genuine as her reactions to Kyle, the unusual stranger. Selectively keeping characters on stage when they’re not involved is effective. Pacing, paramount in this piece, is marvelous.
Pete McElligot (Kyle) is the only actor in the production without Equity status. I find this astonishing. The nuance and depth of his performance is riveting. Emotion impacts every word, gesture and physical attitude, whether internalized or manifest. McElligot has lengthy monologues which unwind in real time as if occurring to him in front of us. He plays charming innocence as skillfully as numbing despair. Simply not knowing what to do with his hands enhances. A counter-intuitive moment of quiet tears is simply gorgeous. Confusion is palpable. As is joy.
Amadeo Fusca (Bennie) fits comfortably into the least well defined role of Kyle’s best/only friend, but a habit of putting his hands in his pockets at inappropriate moments contradicts and distracts from what the character is feeling.
Emily Batsford is a completely natural actress. She personifies Serena without fuss or pretension. Katrina Lenk (Kathleen) sympathetically fleshes out her role skirting the implicit heart of gold cliché. She and McElligot have many skillfully etched moments.
Craig Napoliello’s Set may look at first glance like corrugated boxes and debris, but holds a wealth of unwitting souvenirs and touchstones. (The penknife in a pocket is a nice touch.) Overhead LED lights beautifully signify stars. Kristin Isola’s Costume Design works subtly with three characters and wonderfully with the fourth-love the pink bra. Carl Wiemann’s Lighting Design has the evocative intricacy of an accompanying sonata. Julian Evans’ Original Music and Sound Design – from deep, visceral rumbling to music of the spheres – reaches into the subconscious, signifying the underlying presence of something inexplicable despite facts.
It may help you to know we’re in Arizona. This should be in the program.
Photos by Nikhil Saboo
Opening: Production Art
Libra Theater Company presents
Touch by Toni Press-Coffman
Directed by Nathaniel Shaw
59 East 59th Street
Through September 4, 2016