What dreams may come for young Naomi is a matter of which pills, vitamins, sleeping aids and supplements she’s taking that night. With no parents around, and faced with a wave of existential blues, the lonely sixteen-year-old self-medicates and ponders her proper place in the universe. Pills are often a playwright’s gateway into dysfunctional satire — of sex, family, suburbia, you name it — but Stephen Spotswood employs a lighter touch on our receptors. His script, guided by devised work from an eager cast of six and director Ryan Whinnem, floats us through a winking, whimsical play-universe that teases out a series of creation myths — some recognizable, some perhaps not — to keep a lonely girl company.
It’s a long-form lullaby, nicely scaled to DCAC, a performing space so small it’s usually no problem hearing actors even when they’re whispering. The fact that it’s about as big as a bedroom in there suits this little slumber party of a play quite nicely, because even as Naomi (Megan Reichelt, irreverent and charming) travels in her mind to the beginning of time and the farthest cold corners of the cosmos, the play never loses the warmth of the soft blanket in her lap.
The result is touching in more ways than one. Sure, the resourcefulness Naomi shows in building herself a family nets us early on (she spends her nights in online chatrooms with a motley crew of off-hour scientists and theoreticians, each embedded in their own domestic cubbies nearby). But the show itself is very much about touch. For one, there are the tactile pleasures of the detritus that orbits each character in their own little world (Naomi’s bedroom inventory includes bits of clothing, face-paint, and a big bag of Cheetos, i.e. breakfast). From these humble settings, we happily follow this group of friends as they reach farther up and out, beyond history, to try and tap against the more permanent reasons for why we exist.
“I will not be a slave to circadian rhythms!” Naomi declares in a huff. The kind of journey she’s on is best suited for night owls, so it’s in the wee red-eyed hours that she takes in the myths, related by her online friends (played by Molly Coyle, Nick Hagy, Brandon Mitchell, and Chloe Schwabe). That’s when the real fun starts. A bedsheet, hung and tacked like a ship’s sail, captures the biggest starry space-scapes as well as the fuzziest little details of, well, a well-worn bedsheet (projections, like everything else, were assembled collectively). Through shadow-play, actors have fun skewing proportion and scale (in a myth about giants), bringing stick puppets to life (in a myth about that wily trickster Coyote), and silhouetting human faces for some eerie moments of ancestral storytelling (particularly in Steve Beall’s captivating portrayal of Grandfather).
Myths aren’t “true,” per se, but they’re our most potent means of capturing patterns, memories, and signals from the past. Naomi needs them, urgently, to quell her fears. “Silence expands, like hydrogen in a vacuum,” she thinks aloud, with terminal calm. “Like the stars, the space between us is expanding. We grow colder, darker.” In her words, she’s wrestling with existential angels. Fortunately, the show never grows too self-pitying or indulgent. As you may have guessed, by the end Naomi and her nerd science posse realize that they do have guardians up there after all. As bizarre, silly, and seemingly incongruous as some of the myths are, they’re all about the act of parenthood, of feeding and fostering a world for us humble, starry-eyed creatures to call home.
Toward the end, a few of Naomi’s friends scoff when they see another creation story coming down the pike. But just because myths simplify the complex and try to capture the unknowable doesn’t mean they’re only fodder for kids’ stories. When you zoom out far enough, doesn’t it become clear that we’ll forever be children to… something? With gentle-handed affection and an eye for play, the cast delivers a crafty ode to origin and life’s biggest questions. Not bad for a bunch of scientists — and one precocious high school girl — telling tall tales in their pajamas.
A [email protected] Story For Naomi
Words by Stephen Spotswood
Produced by Bright Alchemy Theatre
Reviewed by Hunter Styles
Running time: 80 minutes