This is a play about melting. The play takes the “yea” position on the subject. Let me explain.
There are few things less vulnerable in the world than statues. Sure, they may be pulled down in time of revolution or melted for ordinance in time of war, but otherwise, they are the very definition of durable goods. You cannot insult them; they do not suffer from lost love or thwarted ambition; they have no children to see die in front of their eyes. The real Lincoln felt the tortures of the damned over the Civil War dead, but the Lincoln statue in his Memorial sits immobile surrounded by his words and his admirers, and takes the long view.
Or consider the Ballerina (Gwen Grastorf), bronze-cast and glittering, standing on permanent display at the National Gallery. Every evening she draws an audience of two: Nigel, a security guard (Matt Pearson) who you will identify within three sentences as a graduate of vocational rehab or of special education, and a closed-off young woman named Beth (Meghan Nesmith). The ballerina is poised in the moment before movement, a monument to potential energy. Although they don’t know it, her two visitors are as well.
It turns out that being a statue, notwithstanding the invulnerability, has no appeal to the Ballerina. She longs to recover her softness, her mobility, her human heart, but only the sustained touch of a human being can bring it to her. She calls out from her stony core, but the minds of most people are clouded with their own schemes and theories. Only dim Nigel is clear enough to hear her.
And when he does, he responds fully, and touches her with his heart as well as his hand. He sings to her. (Amusingly, Pearson, who is known for his beautiful voice, makes himself almost unlistenable. “I have some more,” he promises the Ballerina. “I’ll hear it in installments,” she replies.)
And being statue-like is growing old for Beth also. Every week she shows up at the local video store and rents the same two ballet-based DVDs – which she never watches. Assistant Manager Randy (Kevin O’Reilly) has watched in silent agony. Finally, he can stand it no longer; he insists that she watch the old Kevin Bacon movie, “Footloose” with him, or he will no longer rent the DVDs to her. Rather against her better judgment, she watches the movie with him; rather against her better judgment, she finds she liked him; rather against her better judgment, she finds herself in a passionate embrace with him. Better judgment loses; Beth wins.
“Footloose” is an inspired pick for them to watch, because it is the story of a young man who leads the fight to overturn a ban on rock ‘n roll in his town. Cover Me In Humanness is the story of people leading the fight to overturn the ban on rock ‘n roll in their own hearts. The statue, and Beth, melt into humanness in the arms of their flawed but ardent admirers. And although things end badly for one of the characters, seldom has the old adage about loving and losing been invoked so clearly, and in a manner so free of cliché.
We are familiar with the skills of Pearson and Grastorf (who, once liberated, does a lovely turn as a ballerina), but one of the great joys of this production is discovering the work of O’Reilly and, in particular, Meghan Nesmith. I love the fact that this is a story about everyday people – security guard, video clerk and so on – and there is not a bit of condescension to it, either in the writing or the performances. Nesmith is absolutely convincing as the walled-in young woman who longs to break free. At the end of the show she does a brief moment as a completely different character, on the other end of the spectrum, and she is completely convincing in that role, too. Her bio says that she is currently working toward her MFA. I hope it’s at one of the Universities here. If not, I hope she transfers here. I want to see more.
Cover Me in Humanness
By Jake Jeppson
Directed by Caitlin Dennis
Produced by The Zoo Project
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
* * *
I am aware of the fact that this is the seventh time this year I awarded a Fringe show the highest possible rating. This is not because I have suddenly become an enlightened or sweet person. It is because the caliber of productions this year has been an absolute knockout. Last year, artists’ reach exceeded their grasp.
This year, artists have unfurled their wings and flown against the sky. Icarus flew too close to the sun and lost his wings, but these artists scooped out handfuls of the sun and shined it down on their work, proving, once again, that words are stronger than wax.