Sylvia Plath isn’t what you’d call a good time gal. Her writing is a glimpse into the mind of a very brilliant woman dealing with severe mental anguish. Plath’s focus on death and suicide can be gruesome, but her writing is gorgeous and nuanced, too. Asylos Theater Company is drawing on Plath’s complicated canon for its newest immersive show, Out of the Ash, playing at Glasshouse (246 Union Ave.) in Williamsburg on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 pm.
The mostly-female troupe is making use of every inch of Glasshouse’s sprawling performance space. A glassed-in storefront at street level ushers the audience into an all-white dinner party with a disturbing twist (think P. Diddy’s “White Party” with sausage links decorating the ceiling and a deranged hostess offering to draw her guests’ souls). Down a set of stairs is the bar and rooms stocked with Plath-themed curiosities.
I grabbed a glass of Charles Shaw merlot and watched a performer draped in white lace toss and turn in fitful fake sleep on a bed in the middle of the room. The performance began, and we were ushered back upstairs for fruity, fizzy shots sucked out of tiny test tubes, before splitting into smaller groups and dispersing throughout Glasshouse. Some of us ended up in the backyard, where we watched actors scale the wrong side of a set of stairs (far more artistic than simply climbing them, you understand) and were fed grapes and dinner rolls from a banquet table laid out on the terrace. The actors scurried away to continue delivering Plath-ologues somewhere else in the building, but one audience member hung back. “I’m an artist. I don’t walk away from free food,” she fessed, snatching another bunch of grapes.
Sometimes the performance took us out the front door, onto the Union Avenue sidewalk, and the collision of heightened drama with none-the-wiser passerby facilitated some of the funniest moments of the evening. A homeless lady peered in as one of the actors concluded a particularly athletic fight scene by basically dry-humping her opponent. During the banquet scene, a bro in a ground level apartment appeared at his window, peeking through the curtains with confusion at the group of random people assembled in his backyard.
Asylos is doing cool things with movement and did a great job owning the labyrinthine and huge space at Glasshouse. The company’s not afraid to take risks and push the envelope by making the audience a little uncomfortable, but I missed the subtlety and emotional depth that courses through Plath’s writing. There is lots of screaming, shock effects like a baby made out of fake meat, and intentionally disjointed quoting of her works, which left me feeling adrift.
There’s a reason legions of readers devour Plath’s work; she touches a nerve by putting her personal struggle on paper. It is resonant and terrifying, because she’s self-aware and attune to the depression that courses through her mind before it takes her life. While Asylos clearly worships Plath, I would have liked to see a bit more to really capture and communicate the allure of her genius.