The time it may take you to get to The Bushwick Starr may last longer than its current production, but any trip to this experimental Brooklyn venue is worth the journey.
Now playing at 207 Starr Street, downtown guru David Greenspan’s 45-minute The Things That Were There is a cubist family drama that wisely deconstructs its genre but unfortunately does not carry much heft. In the zippy one-act, nimbly directed by Lee Sunday Evans, Lenny (Greenspan) introduces his birthday party and the family antics that surround it, highlighting pointed episodes from his relatives’ lives.
“Time means nothing in this plays,” says one character. Unfortunately, neither do compelling plot lines nor emotional gravitas. Greenspan is a charismatic performer and an intelligent writer, but The Things That Were There — in showing pieces germane to kitchen sink dramas like meeting-the-in-laws or the excitement and nervousness of a newborn — never fully completes its puzzle. This is more so a flaw in the play’s inherently elliptical DNA than in its execution; we do not care for the characters (despite the strong cast embodying them), and we certainly never understand why we are seeing a timeless genre slice and diced this way.
What makes it worth seeing, in addition to Greenspan’s verve and The Bushwick Starr’s constant and admirable risk-taking aesthetic, is a singular monologue, performed at the heart of the show: Caitlin Morris ignites a lengthy, show-stopping soliloquy that future auditioners may call “The Portrait of Emily ” — a refrain from the speech. As Emily, Lenny’s daughter-in-law, describes herself, Morris plays both herself and Morris as Emily. It is a gorgeous, metatheatrical feat and a stunning performance as “Emily” takes us through the moments of her life that both bleed together and define her, from rambunctious youth to illness-stricken adulthood. All the while Barbara Samuel’s exquisite lighting slowly rises to illuminate more of Emily’s features bringing Morris’ own into being. It’s a lovely coup of text marrying design — if only the rest of the production shimmered as brightly.
The Way Things Were plays now through November 3 at The Bushwick Starr. Tickets are $25 and are available here.