Jane is a multidisciplinary theater maker

Connie works as an actor in Philadelphia

Jane

So, we have to say first off that both of us saw a first preview of this show. It was a very small house, and I know that a few changes were made after the preview. What else was in your pockets?

 

Connie

I know and am friendly with several of the Orbiters so I definitely walked in ready to buy what was being sold. But I didn’t really know anything about the play at all.

 

Jane

I’m a big fan of Orbiter, I think what they do is really important. I went in there rooting for it. So this was a new play. What did you think of the script?

 

Connie

It took a lot of time for me to unpack after I saw the show. I think it was really ambitious in scope. It felt like a really big puzzle, and I love puzzles so I dug that.

 

Jane

I agree with that. I like that I had to listen really hard. The impending big mistake was very discreetly revealed a few scenes ahead of the bomb being dropped, and it caused a lot of tension. And there was also tension in the play itself’s not being a reliable narrator. At first, the wife was killed by a drunk driver, later she had an accident. And of course the two accounts of what happened between their grandparents. I like that that unreliable narrator sometimes had the voice of a newscaster. It made clear that this was a world where truth was relative and narrative mattered more.

 

Connie

Absolutely. And I think the actors and the director handled the places where narratives overlap and differ really well. There was a lot of nuance going on that could easily have been rolled right past.

 

Jane

I totally agree. And I also like the way this script avoided being preachy or sanctimonious

 

Connie

The one thing I kept coming back to again and again with the script is how it felt like a movie, or at least, very much inspired by film. There were moments, particularly when the perspective would shift very quickly from one character to another in a scene, that I felt the script was trying to make me look at one very specific person at each moment. That kind of specificity of gaze is something you can do really easily in film. I mean, in film, who the audience looks at is decided by anyone other than the audience. But in live theatre you can’t make the audience do that. I saw tactics in the direction used to encourage it, like the slow-mo talking and sound that felt like we were doing a close up on a character’s face. But again, it’s live and I can ultimately look wherever I want.

 

Jane

Did you feel like that was successful or did you feel like it was trying to be a movie and failing?

 

Connie

I thought it was compelling to see film devices used on stage and a really interesting way to test the boundaries of what is ‘theatrical’. So it was successful because I can’t stop thinking about whether it worked or not.

 

Jane

I did love that the space was theatrical though.

 

Connie

I agree. I definitely felt like it was a play that was testing out these cinematic devices. What did you think of the direction? Movement was a big part of the show.

 

Jane

I think the directing was fantastic, and I think Rebecca Wright is underrated. She’s great at what she does, but I feel like she doesn’t get the credit she deserves. And I was completely in love with the movement. I think it is so, so hard for a repeated movement device in a basically narrative play to be novel and effective, and this one was. They were weird, compelling movements and the actors executed them with precision every time.

 

Connie

It was specific and compelling, yes

 

Jane

And I liked that it was a coercive movement that touched the stomach, heart and mouth. That’s a great detail that ties back into the story. I also think the blocking was really dynamic and this play offers a real challenge in terms of keeping the space full and the actors moving. Rebecca Wright just kept making very bold choices, like the chair far downstage at the start of the show. What an odd, excellent choice, getting down in that corner like that!

 

Connie

Absolutely. I do think I missed actor’s faces more than was intended but I think that’s more on the physical space than the blocking choices.Ultimately, it didn’t take anything away for me, but I was aware of how often I missed faces.

 

Jane

Huh, I don’t know why I don’t remember having that experience, we were sitting in the same section. I think the only time that the blocking didn’t work for me was when Irving was on the bed and had to kind of half sit half lay down for a long period. That felt clunky.

 

Connie

And that’s a moment I don’t remember!

 

Jane

Two people two plays.

 

Connie

I even feel like my own experience has changed from last night to today after thinking about it.

 

Jane

It was complex and well executed enough that I could relax and let the production engage me.

 

Connie

I do want to throw it out there that I didn’t have a large emotional connection to the characters.

 

Jane

I agree with that. I really felt like Emily Acker was struggling with the challenge of writing female characters who could be taken seriously within this genre. She seemed afraid to give them too much fallibility because they represented so much.

 

Connie

What was missing was if they cared about each other. The connection between them was so professional that the vulnerability that comes with trying to connect with someone on another level was missing.

 

Jane

That is a great point. There was never any hope that they would connect, so I wasn’t invested in whether they did or didn’t.

 

Connie

And with that in the mind the only moment that still sits strangely for me was the moment near the end when they’re fighting. The scene was so full emotionally but the play hadn’t been leading up to that.

 

Jane

That’s also a great point. I think that Brian Anthony Williams was so alive and so deeply invested in his character’s relatively minimal stakes that by comparison the women who were meant to represent the central conflict seemed a little cold.

 

Connie

An interesting point! I think it comes back to your observation of fallibility in the women.  

 

Jane

So do you think that that was in the writing, or the performances?

 

Connie

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure, but I also don’t mind not knowing. It continues to raise questions for me about women being allowed to express emotion and how that changes how people connect to them in both reality and theatre.

 

Jane

Yes, this brought up a lot of those thoughts for me. I want to be really happy about these two characters who represent all that I ask for in female characters, but I can’t say I connected to them personally. Weirdly I did connect to Irving. But I also found the grandparents very thinly drawn, although that might be because they were memories and not people.

 

Connie

That’s where the intricacy catches me a little. I’m still processing the impact of their story on the contemporary storyline. I didn’t realize at first that when the story is being told from the perspective of the grandmother that the soldier may *not* be Rosel’s grandfather.

 

Jane

Well, the projection supports that it is. And the projections are the most authoritative element in the play.

 

Connie

I think that when it goes back to the grandmother’s perspective, there’s a chance that the man is just another soldier and not necessarily the same man we see in other ‘flashbacks.’ So this past storyline because possibly two past storylines.

 

Jane

And possibly two renderings of the same, unknowable story. Dr. Leroy points out that it doesn’t matter. “It may not have been your grandfather, but the point is that it could have been”

 

Connie

Yeah, I definitely missed that when I saw it. And that was tough because it became (spoiler alert) this weird moment of thinking “Am I being asked to doubt whether this woman was sexually assaulted?” That was one moment where the doubling didn’t quite get through 100% successfully for me.

 

Jane

I totally, totally agree. I had the exact same reaction and it pissed me off. I do not like to see sexual assault on stage unless it is very necessary, totally earned and the play obviously supports the victim. And regardless, I would prefer if I knew it was coming. I certainly didn’t need that much of it to be on stage. An implication would have been enough. I knew where it was going.

 

Connie

Oh yeah. I was such a moment of personal dread for me and we were sitting right in front of it. I felt something that had nothing to do with the play and everything to do with being reminded that being a woman is the worst.

 

Jane

I completely agree. I was nowhere near the play or its narrative in that moment.

 

Connie

What did you think of the rest of the design elements?

 

Jane

I love spare sets, and I thought Masha Tsimring’s was beautiful. It supported the narrative and the style of the production. Unfortunately, that tree going up bummed me out a little because it was a very cool element, but the stuttering, noisy tech pointed clearly to what it was supposed to be like (smooth, antiseptic.)

 

Connie

I agree. I liked the set, loved the tree.

 

Jane

So when we entered the theater, you were wary of the cage. What did you end up thinking about it?

 

Connie

I’m glad no one was locked in it. I liked what it provided in terms of blocking and differentiating between the two timelines. And no one was locked in it.

 

Jane

I am also happy that no one was locked in it.

 

Connie

Jamie Grace-Duff’s costuming also fit really nicely without making them disappear into the white set.

 

Jane

Yes, I think the khaki linen jackets were brilliant! And I really liked the motion that Hannah Gold made as she transitioned from doctor to soldier with the lapels it made the change in one elegant distinction.

 

Connie

Yes! So small and subtle but it made such an impact.

 

Jane

The same with Amina’s hijab. And the change between characters was so fluid. Lots of precision from this cast, which was supported by the costume design.

Connie

Yes!! And Irving’s costumes were just ‘every man’ which made it all that easier to connect to him

 

Jane

Did you notice that his hospital gown was, like a patchwork of all hospital gown fabrics ever?

I have no idea what that meant, but I loved it

 

Connie

I didn’t notice that! I just felt so connected to him because how he dressed was how my Dad dressed so I felt really protective of him.

 

Jane

Isn’t it weird how connected we feel to this misogynist asshole? Brian Anthony Williams reminded me of every great actress I’ve ever seen get into a “girlfriend” part and just bring it to life. Do you know what I mean? This wasn’t his play, and he didn’t overshadow the others, but he just lived ALL the way into it. You really cared that they killed him. The first time I heard them mix up the kidneys, I really gasped.

 

Connie

Yes! That is perfectly put! There was an understanding that he was going to be the way in for the audience emotionally because most of the audience probably won’t be doctors. And so we could understand the trust he had to put into the people who were going to operate on him, which is really crazy to think about. And then, through him, we got to see how the two women (who this play is really about) dealt with that trust.

 

Jane

Great point. Do you want to say more about acting?

 

Connie

I really liked Isabella Sazak who played Dr. Leroy. She was grounded, with this laser focus. She’s what they mean they say “still waters run deep”.

 

Jane

Yeah, I think so, too. That “yup yup” was an amazing character detail- a good collaboration in writing and interpretation between Sazak and Emily Acker. But do you think she contributed to the problem of not being able to connect emotionally to the character?

 

Connie

Maybe? I think she showed Dr. Leroy to be very guarded so that intrigued me even though I was never allowed in on what was going on emotionally.

 

Jane

Yes, I think the guardedness was perfect, but we needed more cracks to get to that final moment. I honestly don’t know if that was the performance, the play or the directing. Or that it was a preview.

 

Connie

Yeah, not even a preview. It was a pay-what-you-can so that’s a lot for everyone in the production to work through.

 

Jane

How about Hannah Gold? I really liked the idea of a character who was unapologetic about her apologeticness. That was refreshing. She wasn’t really interested in changing. And I think it was helpful that Hannah Gold played in opposition to that rather than into it. It would have been irritating if she had played it very feminine or bubbly.

 

Connie

Yeah it was the most no-nonsense niceness. I believed that she wanted to connect with her patients and that she was also a really good doctor.

 

Jane

I did, too, although I also think Rosel’s unwillingness to confront difficult things came through. What most impressed me from these actresses was a high level of skill and precision. They were really really professional and really on point– especially considering that this was the first preview. They made what must have been a lot of really hard work invisible.

 

Jane

I want to say that I loved the sound by Adriano Shaplin. It is so hard to really score a show with sounds. I think the result here was excellent, it felt like a great podcast or npr documentary, where you barely notice the sounds are bringing you through the story.

 

Connie

I liked the sound as well but I feel like I was very aware of it. It was another element that felt very cinematic for me.

 

Jane

Oh I thought it was so seamless!

 

Connie

I think that’s why I became so aware of it, to be fair. It’s not that it didn’t fit or work, it just kept popping up for me intellectually since I was really intrigued by the use of cinematic elements in live theatre

 

Jane

Sure, that makes sense. So with that in mind, what did you think about light from Masha Tsmiring?

 

Connie

This is a sort of ‘in my pocket’-ish thing. When I see a white stage I get really excited for the lights because this is basically a blank canvas. That expectation may have affected my appreciation of the lights because I really wanted a lot of color.

 

Jane

Ha! I have the opposite prejudice, I hate a lot of color on stage.

 

Connie

I think the lights did great service to the play and the production however. It just took me a long time to detangle what I wanted from the lights vs what I got.

 

Jane

I liked the antiseptic, industrial feeling of them, particularly the light from the X ray illuminator. And I appreciated the contrasting “hollywood” effect of the old cans in that cage.

 

Connie

There was one moment where the illuminator was positioned right at the edge of the playing space and the audience was lit that stuck with me. It was a moment where I felt included but not in a breaking the 4th wall way.

 

Jane

This is a good new play. This is not the kind that I personally get all excited about but it’s unquestionably  a good new play.

 

Connie

I agree. It’s not usually my thing but I can’t stop thinking about it.

 

Jane

And I think it’s worth noting that the type of play I don’t get excited about is the intellectual exploration of ideas, but if I am going to see an exploration of ideas, I’d much rather see Emily Acker’s version of it than, for example,  Ayed Ahktars. I prefer the depth and care that she brings to the kind of essay-shoved-in-a-character’s mouth that you get from a lot of male playwrights doing idea plays. This is a very good version of a thing I don’t usually care for.

 

Connie

Which I think speaks to the skill of everyone involved.

 

Jane

If nothing else, I’d recommend this play for the care and skill of it. This was a loved production, and it is hard not to feel well treated as an audience member when a production is loved. So often I go to the theater and feel like someone is saying “YOU HAVE TO EAT THIS, I MADE IT.”

 

Connie

Or an assumption that, of course you’ll like this. How could you not like this? Don’t you see how much money went into this? This is the opposite of that. Handmade theatre, made in Philly with love.

 

Jane

And set in Philly. I saw you in there, Schuykill River. Anything else you want to say about this piece?

 

Connie

Go see it, please!

 

Jane

Yeah, see it.

 

2 thoughts on “I Am Not My Motherland- Orbiter 3

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