Playwright: Young Jean Lee
At: Theatre Y, streaming online at Theatre-Y.com . Tickets: Free. Runs through: Oct. 25
"To be, or not to be" may have once been a dilemma to beguile wealthy Danish princes, but the riddle baffling us today is why we continue to endure so many terrible thingspain, sorrow, injury, abandonment, imminent extinction. What can we do to halt these "thousand naturalshocks that flesh is heir to" and what solace can we offer to those undergoing them?
In 2011, playwright Young Jean Lee mused on this enigma in a series of monologues with music that recounted moments in her earlier life when she was spurred to confront the perplexities of our inexorable journey to the grave: eavesdropping on an uncle beset by self-loathing, a sister obsessed with lurid murders, a cohabitant lover whose merciful efforts to banish evidence of his previous occupancy prove futile, a mother's lullaby promising, "you will sleep, by and by" and, finally, the story of her father's death after an excruciation steeped in suspense, suffering and unimaginably bitter irony.
You can present this material as a straightforward spoken-word solo performance ( its premiere featured Lee herself gently assuring her audience, "I won't try to make you smile" ) or you can serve it up as a screw-you-reaperboy rock concert like the 2017 Haven Theatre production did. A small screen viewed in solitary seclusion, however, invokes an intimacy beyond any achieved in a communal settingcircumstances making for Theatre Y's visual concept composed almost entirely of enigmatic objects viewed in extreme close-up, with only a few brief glimpses of live human beings.
Said objects encompass such personal treasures as black-and-white snapshot photographs, postcard-sized artwork, a Nikon-style camera in a leather case, and a Peter Max-style animated cartoon. A recurring motif is suggested in a pair of lighted Christmas-Caroler candles whose slow meltdown is echoed in a time-lapse filmed sequence of a gradually thawing ice-cream sundae and in portraits of our narrator with her face masked under thick makeup that cannot stop the flow of her tears.
Accompanying this gallery of images is an audio montage in which traces of chamber orchestra, music-box and rewinding reel-to-reel and cassette recorders can be detected. Oh, and did I mention that all this takes only a little more than an hour?
Lee is not content to leave us floundering in melancholy, though, instead proposing deathnot as a cataclysmic tragedy conceived to punish each of us individually, but as the inevitable conclusion to the life that we share with everything in the universe. Whether that brings you comfort or not, the multisensory collage assembled for this streaming production by an ensemble of talented artistsmost notably, actor Emily Bragg as our questioning pilgrim, along with cinematographer Justin Jones and film editor Kevin Hurleydelivers a mesmerizing contemplation on the great mystery even science has never been able to solve.