This Flat Earth: A Review
Let us not bandy about. This Flat Earth is an important play. It is among the first of its kind to arrive in the theatrical commercial mainstream. It will sadly not be the last. This production is a clear clarion call for a problem that is only now becoming locked into our national psyche even though it's grown from a constant and seemingly unending set of events. This Flat Earth by Lindsey Ferrentino, now at Playwrights Horizons, is about the death of our young students, the individual impact this has on all our daily lives, the struggles that present themselves as we pay a repeated cost, and the message manifests itself as a subtly delivered yet powerfully landed punch to the societal gut.
Thirteen is a critical age. It’s the supposed time when teenagers begin that transition into adulthood. It’s a time of reality and responsibility. Reality comes crashing in on Julie and Zander. They’re both thirteen and living in an idyllic seaside town in New England. They also both attend a perfect middle school where a gunman has entered the building and shattered their lives. Both teens are trying desperately to process the event each in their own way. Ian Saint-Germanin as Zander is a wonder of awkward but deeply caring pubescent contradictions. Ella Kennedy Davis takes the role of Julie to heart and succeeds comically and gracefully in wrestling with the complex issues before them. We see a majority of the coping both good and bad through Julie’s eyes and they are the perfect lenses for viewing troubled understanding.
While the kids are trying to find meaning in chaos the adults here are attempting to do the same. Julie’s single dad Dan, a former standup comic turned working class hero in order to make things better for his daughter, doesn’t have all the tools necessary to answer his daughters very real and sometimes abstract questions but he tries as hard as he can to help. Sometimes a little too hard. Lucas Papaelias is charming and endearing here as Dan. He’s the perfect slightly imperfect father fueled by well-meaning intentions. The other counter balancing grown up here is Lisa played by Cassie Beck who’s a powerhouse actress filling her role with jumbled nerves and tortured angst. As she comes and goes Lisa serves as a constant reminder of the incident. She lost her daughter that day. The energy of that loss is always with her and it impacts everyone in this world.
Rising above them all, quite literally due to the fabulous two-story set of scenic designer Dane Laffrey, is Cloris. She lives in the apartment above Julie and Dan and its from there that she rules the roost as the sage goddess figure of the proceedings. Lynda Gravatt’s performance is stellar and grounding. She brings a knowing gravitas that helps to provide a much-needed balm to not only Dan and the kids but to those of us in the dark as well. Cloris has been around, she’s experienced all that life has to offer, she understands that life is a set of patterns that are as predictable as they are unpredictable and that change for the better is sometimes hard fought and hard won.
From the start of This Flat Earth author Ferrentino carefully sets about the business of layering in a narrative foundation and then methodically reverse engineering this emotional time bomb as she peels back each layer. By the time the ninety minutes are up she leaves you an emotional but much wiser mess. There is no hammer here pounding the nail home. There is no rallying cry driving you to action. There is just a constant sense of truth in the midst of heartfelt questions and genuine pain. Everyone in this world pays a price and because the writer never talks down to her audience we easily empathize with each of them.
The production is deftly directed by Rebecca Taichman but Ferrentino and Taichman both work together seamlessly to let their characters breathe the moments of their lives which enables us to witness our own in theirs. Writer and director both let these characters find humor in the dark, compassion in the light, and everyone is allowed their cathartic pangs without judgement. Whether at the blunt end of the barrel of a gun, or at the sharp point of a jointly crafted moment, This Flat Earth proves itself to be a significant work that never preaches as it enlightens in the midst of our current politically polarized climate.
Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater 416 West 42nd Street $49 - $89 www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/plays/flat-earth/ 212-564-1235 Mar 16 – April 29, 2018
From an original post on TheaterScene.