There are some experiences that in engaging we encounter that elusive and mercurial essence of what it is to exist as human. Undoubtedly these expressions must, I imagine, vary from individual to individual, but I have my listing.
Being witness to life’s fresh emergence, and its final departure;
to stand in the triumph of one’s arrival while being awash in humility due to the destination;
to suffer remembrances of towers tumbling, to know the presence of spiritual purity;
to view any pursuit or endeavor achieved with artistry;
to see twilight defied by the New York skyline, to watch the light of dawn stretch Stonehenge’s shadows to the horizon.
It is, I think, drawn from a shared sense of grandeur or tragedy, or perhaps potential. Theatre when done well, when authentic, is for me, personally, when I feel myself most in the midst of that sense of the echoing of our humanity.
I revel in the theatrical event unencumbered by the hollow artifice of epic that has a vocabulary simplistic in its unalloyed honesty and seeks to tell us those truths which cannot be told by words. If pressed to hold up some example to illumine the type of theatre I mean, the 24th Street Theatre’s staging of “Walking the Tightrope” would be a perfect example. The play poses a question to us, “What are we to tell a five-year-old of death?”
Playwright Mike Kenny has encompassed all of the primal elements of theatre: poetry, symbols, music and clowns. The play opens with a clown (Tony Duran) sitting at a train station, clutching a rag doll and waiting. Mr. Duran has impressed us before with his skills; here he impresses us even more. He serves on multiple layers in this role, but perhaps most importantly, like the Iudruk, the clown of the Javanese theatre, he serves to protect the audience from being enmeshed in the illusion of the piece, to the point they would be stupefied by its beauty.
Esme (Jane Noseworthy) has come to the seaside to stay with her Granddad Stan (Mark Bramhall) as she has for each of her four years. The work is structured from a childhood’s fabric of memories, repetition and images stitched into that continuity which gives contentment to the very young.
But this year there is something missing, Nana, the grandmother who Esme is constantly searching for, asking of.
“What are we to tell a five year old of death?”
For Granddad Stan the answer is, “She’s gone off with the circus to be a tightrope walker.”
Both Noseworthy and Bramhall are perfection in their roles and cement the relationship between a child and grandparent with a believability that the piece builds its foundation on. The fourth player on this stage is the superlative composition of musician Michael Redfield, which earned him an Ovation Award from the work’s original staging.
There is not one element of this work that didn’t shine forth, so all deserve mention here. Keith Mitchell‘s slender and seamless scenic design, Dan Weingarten’s lighting, John Zalewski’s slight but evocative sound score, the costuming of Ela Jo Erwin and Sarah Zinsser and the lyrical multimedia design of Matthew Hill.
Director Debbie Devine and Producer Jay McAdams have remounted their 2013 hit as a touring production, and my hope is that when the circuit is completed that they finish off with a revival of the show for L.A. audiences to enjoy again.
This is a master work.
The question the play poses, “What are we to tell a five year old of death?” and in contemplating an answer we are forced to an acknowledgment, “What do we know of death that we can tell?”