FRUITING BODIES, a new play by Sam Chanse, is a call to the wild parts of ourselves that have been starved of oxygen. It’s a hunt to find the elusive, the dangerous, the long buried…The familiar family drama finds a different setting away from the dinner table to the forest floor with it’s mercurial mycology. It’s a thought provoking transformation play where the troubled characters enter the shifting forest, the unknown, and emerge somewhat altered. There are secrets to be revealed, hero’s to be tested and dream fragments to confront. The Ma-Yi Theater Company takes us mushroom hunting into the dark depths of our collective unconscious so we can find our own inner gourmet “morels”.
In FRUITING BODIES two sisters, Mush and Vicky, head out of town to fetch their father, Ben, who has lost his way during a mushroom hunt and ended up in a totally different part of the forest, far away from his car. The road trip reveals siblings that are strained in each others company. They are harboring old wounds and seem to rub up against each other like sandpaper on skin or nails on a chalkboard. On entering the forest they immediately lose each other. Ben continues his hunting having encountered a bright boy who keeps him company and offers more insight than any of the adults in the mix. The child’s presence sparks memories of Ben’s estranged son Eddie, past and present become a fluid thing, dredging up old conflicts and present fractures. The mixed-race asian family wrestle with uncomfortable roles they have been cast in, the desire to be seen and a deep restlessness around acceptance. When they ‘find’ each other they are the most lost – unable to connect. There are echoes of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream where characters tend to fall asleep – allowing reality and the unconscious to start blending together as the forest shape shifts around them. It’s beautifully mesmerizing. In every ‘lost’ moment the characters experiences bring deeper understanding of their inner hurts, failings and desperate longings. The forest is coaxing them to self revelation. Reid Thompson’s tempting scenic design draws you in like a gnat to a venus flytrap.
Director Shelley Butler keeps the tensions running high and then gently lulls you into soporific states where you feel half awake and half asleep. Jeanette Oi-Suk’s bewitching lighting design truly excels at creating these altered realities. Butler is a genius at crafting confrontational moments finding just the right rise to the climax of each argument. There is a robust physicality to her direction – the performers inhabit their characters with clear physical choices and a fiery energy that crackles. I particularly enjoyed her use of pace – accelerating at top speed and then taking the foot off the brake so we could clearly see the view. A lovely rollercoaster of satisfying peaks and valley’s.
The cast are all outstanding. Thom Sesma as Ben, the patriarchal dinosaur stomping about on a societal cushion of hot air, is a force. He is a charming, arresting, vital actor that brings a divine complexity to Ben. Jeffrey Omura plays a trio of characters and is like a ‘Puck’, an ephemeral being that whips up the air, incites change, and is magical and maniacal in equal measure. Omura brings a youthful exuberance to all of his characters but is also capable of plunging into emotional depths that are simply heartbreaking.
Emma Kikue as Vicky the silicon valley, tech obsessed sister, gives us a women on the edge of exploding. Her carefully constructed world has an impossible glitch that she cannot correct. Kikue brings a gentleness and broken bird quality to the role disguised and dressed up as bravado in a backpack. Kimiye Corwin as the volatile, artistic, Mush is sensational as the sister who wishes she could wipe her slate clean of context. She manages to be both laconic and effervescent giving us a woman unable to control the size of her response to outward stimulus. Corwin has an ease on stage that is magnetic.
Kate Marvin’s sound design and original music perfectly creates the realm of the unconscious, the space where time bends and nature claims the throne. She evokes a feeling of unnerving disquiet.Sara Ryung Clement’s costume designs kit us out for an unforgettable walk in the woods.
Years ago I went to see The Bodies Exhibition. I remember leaving the space feeling alive in a unique way – I could now “see” that beneath my skin, I looked like clusters of trees, branches and leaves enlivened by a constant stream of life giving water and oxygen. I felt like I was essentially part of nature. FRUITING BODIES had a similar effect on me. We often can’t see the wood for the trees in our lives and this play reminds us to stop and smell the flowers, getting lost long enough for self reflection to get some sunlight.
Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission
FRUITING BODIES runs until May 19. Tickets range in price from $32.25 to $42.25 and can be purchased by calling the Telecharge phone number 212-239-6200 or online at www.telecharge.comwww.theatrerow.org