Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Charlotte's Song


Charlotte’s Song
by Nancy Ferragallo
directed by Andreas Robertz and Mario Golden
produced by The Theater for the new City

Charlotte’s Song is a stark expressionist piece, written – ‘conceived’ would be a better word – by Nancy Ferragallo. This bit of concept theater concerns a schizophrenic mother and her daughter. The play proceeds largely through monologues, and also through dance, on a nearly bare stage.

Mother and daughter communicate, for the most part, through letters. Or at least, the parent does; her daughter does not necessarily respond. A large portion of the piece consists of monologues in which the mother, reading her own letters, begs her daughter to visit her at a series of hotels. In fact, the litany of hotels is extensive. The use of repetition is effective only up to a point. In this case it’s fascinating at first, but becomes burdensome.

Long expressive silences are imbedded in the spoken passages. Framed by fragments of the monologue, they’re eerie. The silence is disturbing, expressing the inner life of the mentally ill with a frightening eloquence.

The directors have had the inspiration to cast a man (Mario Golden) in the role of the mother. The masculine voice gives the character an alienation, a distance from itself. Again, the schizophrenic’s inner life is presented.

Much of the play is marvelously danced by Celeste Hastings to the music of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Luciano Berio, presumably not written for the production. The choreography representing the mother’s inner life is suitably ungracious and abrupt. The dancer spends some time in a grotesque tableau.  

The chilling concept is supported by hypnotic lighting, some of it blue and hung directly over the stage.

Charlotte’s Song is monochromatic. Granted, that's a strength as well as its considerably narrow limitation. But still, it could use variation. The daughter finds herself in a healing place at the end of the piece, and this is precisely the resolution that’s needed to give the play development. However, the healing moment is so brief that it seems to have been added as an afterthought. What’s more, it’s not at all clear how she got to the rehabilitative state.

Much of Charlotte’s Song is mesmerizing. The production is executed with extraordinary precision. Such meticulousness compensates, to an extent, for its shortcomings. 

- Steve Capra
April 2014