Stages of Learning
The Chekhov Theatre Ensemble
(Hôtel des deux mondes)
By Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Blue Heron Arts Center, 123 E. 24 St., NYC, March 9 through 19, 2005
Directed by RAGNAR FREIDANK
Set Design TIMOTHY MACKABEE
Lighting Design RUSSEL DRAPKIN
Costume Design KRISTINE KOURY
Sound Design MARGARET PINE
Stage Manager ELIZABETH STEINER
Press Representative ADAM KLASFELD
Sara Barker – Laura
Max Evjen – The Chairman
Patrick Jones – Colin
T. Scott Lilly – The Magus
Dana Panepinto, Jennifer Wintzer – Assistants
Andrea Seigel – Jesse
Jennifer Shirley – Dr. S
The last thing you remember is clutching your chest, or hitting your head, or drinking too much and then getting behind the wheel of your car, and the next thing you know, you are getting off an elevator, and stepping into unfamiliar territory. This is when you realize that you are BETWEEN WORLDS. Neither dead nor alive, but waiting to hear whether that coma you are in down on Earth will resolve itself or send you to the great beyond, you exist in the cosmic and philosophical void, and we are watching, and waiting, and posing the big questions for which there are no answers.
Guiding us BETWEEN WORLDS are two telepathic assistants and a creature called Doctor S. Some characters perceive S as a man, but S is presented to the audience as a leggy, stiletto wearing woman in white. These three tend to the visitors, including a cleaning lady named Jesse, The Chairman, a fortuneteller known as The Magus, a newcomer named Colin, and a repeat visitor, Laura. Each has lived a particular life, and each has reasons for wanting to live longer.
The two characters at the center of the story are Colin and Laura. He, an alcoholic womanizer in his conscious life, falls in love, almost instantaneously, with the lovely Laura. Unfortunately this twist does not ring genuine, as it is the only part of the play not subject to lengthy exposition. It just happens, and Colin is unconvincingly transformed. That said, it is the reaction of the other denizens that make BETWEEN WORLDS something more than a saccharine love story. As it happens, Laura is wheelchair bound and in need of a heart transplant back on Earth. Her predicament stirs The Magus, Dr. S and Colin to test boundaries and question both ethical and cosmic rules.
Framing the story, we find ourselves faced with strong design elements. The set has just the right mix to make BETWEEN WORLDS look clinical and sanitized, but imperfect, like a hospital waiting area. The lighting too has this effect. There is some rather anti-ambient, yet oddly appropriate sound design to alert us to arrivals and departures that contains a collection of noises and familiar sounds one might imagine hearing whilst watching a lifetime pass before one’s eyes. It is eerie and even overbearing, but correct somehow. Tying it all together, Ragnar Friedank’s direction emphasizes the repetitive, interminable state that this place is in, while never losing the heightened sense of expectation and even fear that emerges every time the elevator door opens.
I feel that only arrogance would allow one to present a work that presumes to answer the mysteries of life and human existence. Happily, BETWEEN WORLDS leaves ends untied throughout, recognizing that reality is largely a matter of individual perception. So, there is no intrusive, muddling, guiding message to tell us what we ought to believe or intuit from the situations we are presented with. In the end, we are as the characters of the play. Having never been dead, we are without a clue as to what that actually entails.
- Kessa De Santis -