Will Arbery’s wonderfully unsettling Plano is a kind of inside-out play: it goes so far into the uncanny, protean mind’s eye that it comes out the other side, revealing all sorts of disturbing social truths. Directed in a focused rush of fight-or-flight energy by Taylor Reynolds, Plano appeared in Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks Festival last year. Now it returns for a run at the Connelly, where its thrilling oddities have a bit more elbow room and the scruffy Astroturf lawn of Daniel Zimmerman’s set spills over the lip of the theater’s fantastic old proscenium stage. Arbery grew up in Texas as “the only boy with seven sisters,” and in the taut, wily Plano, he turns a fun-house mirror onto certain aspects of that autobiography.
The play’s three sisters — related to those of Chekhov inasmuch as they’re stuck as hell — inhabit a couple of bleak suburban houses outside Dallas as well as a shared, haunted mindscape. Anne (Crystal Finn) is the oldest, a professor with a husband named John (Cesar J. Rosado) — actually it’s Juan, but he’s “always wanted to be John” — who may or may not be gay and may or may not have married her for a green card. Isabel (Susannah Flood) is the youngest: devout, self-sacrificing, possibly anorexic, and never as “fine” as she claims. Genevieve (Miriam Silverman) is in the middle. A sculptor with a straying husband called Steve (Ryan King), she’s the kind of driven, skeptical caregiver whose concern comes off as bullying. “Don’t fuck up your life,” she snaps at both of her sisters, a warning that’s more personal than she lets on.
So far, so domestic — but Reynolds and her actors immediately bring the play’s rapid, trippy rhythms and its Tilt-A-Whirl sense of reality to the fore. “Talk as though your life depended on it. Now,” Genevieve demands as she and her sisters huddle on her porch together, and indeed, Arbery’s characters behave as if they’re always following similar orders. At least, the women do. If Genevieve, Anne, and Isabel stop talking, they might blink out like tiny lights, but John, Steve, and a frightening male figure known only as the Faceless Ghost (Brendan Dalton) can come or go, speak or not speak, as they please. But whatever their literal physical wanderings, the sisters — and, as the play’s harrowing climax reveals, their mother, Mary (Mary Shultz) — are trapped, clinging desperately to each other in a world where the edges of sanity, possibility, and agency are steadily crumbling.
If you live in this world, time flies when you’re having the opposite of fun, and though we laugh as Anne rattles breathlessly through a sequence like, “We’re going down to Juarez for New Year’s … See you later. It’s later. Juarez was wonderful” — the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up. Something’s out of joint. The world hurtles forward yet nothing moves. People split and shift and disappear to Plano (“Stop saying Plano, I hate Plano,” Genevieve snaps) as if it’s some kind of psychological wormhole, not a town but, as the stoners say, a state of mind. The mundane slips ever closer to the nightmarish — indeed, the sisters hardly know the difference between their memories and their nightmares. Soon enough, there are two Steves, one who’s left Genevieve for an intern (and whose “new thing is now intersectional feminism”) and one who’s still lurking — lumpish, sulky, and terrifying — around her house. There’s John, slippery and unknowable as a deep-sea creature, who unblinkingly assures Anne that, though there are many more of him (“All the mes … All around. Everywhere”), he “keeps them invisible” and she’ll “never need to know where they go.” And there’s that ghost, faceless, needy, and menacing — and hellbent on keeping Isabel in the theater. He wrestles her back onto the stage when she panics and tries to make a metatheatrical break for it. As Isabel discovers, say “Plano” enough times and it starts to warp into “Play — No.”
The chronology of events in Arbery’s play is less significant than the feeling of cyclical vertigo it induces. Yes, there are marriages, pregnancies, divorces, moves away and moves back, but Plano isn’t a line but a loop. The zealous, well-meaning Mary has bequeathed to her daughters certain diseases of the soul — from Genevieve’s repressed rage and Isabel’s physical and spiritual dysmorphia to Anne’s self-erasing ability, when someone asks her about herself, to “smile and deftly make it about them” — and in adulthood the girls are caught up playing out patterns that have become prisons. “I feel made up, and I feel like I had no hand in that making up,” says Anne. “I don’t know why I’m suddenly a mother, and a wife. And I don’t know why I’m suddenly 35. I love and hate everyone, I scream in my car, I scream at my kid, I’m afraid of saying anything to John that will make him hate me. I want everything to be okay.” Genevieve puts her finger on the injustice of the sisters’ plight: Somehow, they seem to recede in their suffering, while the men expand in theirs — literally proliferating because one body isn’t enough for all their feelings. “Why can’t I be the one who has two bodies?” Genevieve growls. “Me and the other me? One body gives a fuck, the other body doesn’t give a fuck.” Her ambition thwarted, her identity blurring, she laments in one of the play’s most piercing moments, “I wish when I looked to the future I saw me, standing alone with the things I’ve made.”
Silverman, Finn, and Flood feed each other, and feed off each other, with electric energy and precision. They create a pulsing, spinning three-atom molecule at the center of the play, which is as funny as it is powerfully disturbing. “I wish there had never been a Steve!,” Genevieve howls in frustration to her sisters. “And I wish there’d never been that fucking Norwegian book. What’s it called? The one that enabled him? About the white guy struggling?” And if you think that’s good, just wait till one of Knausgård’s actual 900-page coffee-table bricks shows up as a hilariously deadly prop. Reynolds and her choreographer Kelly Bartnik, backed by Tyler Kieffer’s shifting, eerie soundtrack, put together a series of sinister dream ballets, and even when the sisters meet in full daylight, that nighttime sense of running — running without stopping from some monster, toward some cliff — is still there.
As we left, the friend who saw Plano with me compared it to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. She’s right. Both have a way of presenting as “quirky” before you really get to know them, and both, if you had to give them a genre, are actually much closer to horror. The horror of the internal landscape and the way the world has somehow surreptitiously cultivated it without our consent. With its mysterious plagues and its slug infestations, its multiplying men and its cornered, fighting women, its sense that the drab, weird, grossly unfair universe is always on the edge of an apocalypse that never comes, Plano is a fiercely smart contemporary dream play — to paraphrase Ursula Le Guin, a “realism of a larger reality.”
— via Vulture.com
Arbery’s work Heroes of the Forth Turning is up at Playwrights’ Horizons in the fall of 2019.
FREQUENCY SERIES PRESENTS
ExclusiveOr, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Architeuthis Walks on Land
SUN, MAY 20, 2018
“America’s foremost new-music group” – Alex Ross
“bracing, illuminating, reassuring” – Financial Times
“the new gold standard for new music” – The New Yorker
“Curated by Matt Morris, Let Me Be an Object that Screams brings together a range of works by contemporary artists in order to test psychoanalytic concepts of ‘subject-hood’ and the ways a subject’s counterpart, the ‘object,’ is animated by artistic and exhibition practices. The exhibition proposes subversions to how political and psychic power have been traditionally and consistently distributed in accordance to who is perceived to operate with agency and thought, in contrast to the disinvestment of groups and communities read as “other.” Particularly, the persistent privileges of white masculinity are problematized across feminist, queer, and racially critical inquiries. Through sculpture, installation, photography, and video, historical counter-narratives and accounts of the artists’ own lived experiences shift emphasis off of the typical subject, while elsewhere projects reject subject-hood in favor of stranger possibilities of an object that misbehaves—or “screams,” as the exhibition title (quoted from Ukrainian-Brazilian author Clarice Lispector) describes.
“In Let Me Be an Object that Screams, typically tidy conceptual divisions between how humans and objects exist are troubled. Alternative strategies of resistance to dominant systems of power are formed in the materials of the artworks themselves. All the while, this group of artists hold close to the difficult memories that, according to scholar Uri McMillan, “our history is one in which humans were reduced to things (however incomplete that reduction)” through slavery, xenophobia, sexism, and other systems of oppression, many of which are ongoing.”
— Gallery 400
Composer Shawn Jaeger, filmmaker Afia Serena Nathaniel, and writer Rebekah Rutkoff have been named Princeton University Arts Fellows for 2016-18 and will begin two years of teaching and community collaboration in September.
The Princeton Arts Fellows program provides support for early-career artists who have demonstrated both extraordinary promise and a record of achievement in their fields with the opportunity to further their work while teaching within a liberal arts context.
Funded in part by the Mellon Foundation, Fellows are selected for atwo-year residency to teach one course each semester or, in lieu of a course, to undertake an artistic assignment that deeply engages undergraduate students, such as directing a play, conducting a music ensemble, or choreographing a dance piece. Fellows are expected to be active members of the University’s intellectual and artistic community while in residence; in return, they are provided the resources and spaces necessary to their work.
Jaeger, Nathaniel, and Rutkoff were selected from a large, diverse, and multi-talented pool of over 700 applicants from dance, music, creative writing, theater and the visual arts. “The applicant pool was large, competitive, and enormously impressive across all fields, disciplines, and media,” said Stacy Wolf, Acting Chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts and Director of Fellowships. “The selection committee was amazed and inspired by the work of these artists, as well as by their ideas of ways to engage with Princeton’s arts community.”
Shawn Jaeger is a composer based in New York City. Described as “introspective, mournful […] evocative” by The New York Times, Jaeger’s music often draws inspiration from Appalachian folksong and hymnody. His works have been performed by Dawn Upshaw and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the JACK Quartet, Ensemble Dal Niente, violinist Alexi Kenney, and Contemporaneous, at venues including Zankel Hall, Weill Recital Hall, Merkin Concert Hall, the Morgan Library, (Le) Poisson Rouge, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. He has received commissions from Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Bard College Conservatory of Music, the American Composers Forum/Jerome Fund for New Music (JFund), Roulette/Jerome Foundation, and the BMI Foundation/Concert Artists Guild (Carlos Surinach Commission).
His honors include the Claire Rosen and Samuel Edes Foundation Prize for Emerging Artists, Northwestern University’s M. William Karlins and William T. Faricy Awards, the ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Award, and two BMI Student Composer Awards.
Jaeger holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition from Northwestern University and a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Michigan. He has taught composition at Tufts University and the Bard College Conservatory of Music Preparatory Division.
— via arts.princeton.edu