In this “If you see something, say something” era, what if what you saw didn’t happen, except in your mind? Bigger Than You, Bigger Than Me explores what could be happening around the corner, down the street, even next door to your safe, cozy apartment.
In the opening scene, two grammar school teachers, Adele and Beth, lounge comfortably on the floor, getting buzzed smoking weed through a pipe, just as naturally as if they were designing lesson plans. Welcome to the world of up and coming playwright, Kathryn Coughlin, who will knock you off your comfy couch with totally different takes on reality. What’s so stunning is her ability to pull you in so subtly that you don’t even know you’re shifting then – bam! – you wonder what the blankety blank was that?!!
As the scenes unfold, and the characters go about their lives, Adele slowly starts to confide in Beth that she’s been having some unsettling premonitions about an upcoming, horrific event. Not only can she can feel it, she has “seen” images of bodies strewn about, including youngsters. Something bigger than them is in the works, and the only recourse is to warn as many people as possible and escape before the catastrophe.
Loud noises and sirens careen from out of nowhere throughout the play, adding to the ominous tension. Was that a bomb? An explosion? Gun fire? In this post-9/11 environment of increasingly brutal pictures of captives being executed, marathoners brutalized finishing a race, gone are the days of ducking heads in sand with “That can’t happen here.” This mess is real, and Coughlin brings it to our front steps with simple questions of “What if?”
Sophie Schulman is adorable as Beth, ready and willing to give everybody a chance, full of care for her students, and convinced in the rightness of trying to make a difference in desperate lives. Beth’s caring nature allows her to have a warm spot for her colleague’s strong independent stance. Maybe she wishes she had a some of Adele’s backbone and persuasive skills. Far from being a pushover, though, Beth pushes back and shows some serious grit of her own when Adele crosses the line of propriety.
Mia Branco plays Adele as a tightly wound gorgeous piece of work. Adele loves the large floor to ceiling windows in her apartment although the transparency allows her to see and hear Everything, and then some. She’s smooth and convincing and never comes across as unhinged, crazy, or delusional, although she might very well be bits of all three.
The women have more to work with in terms of range and character development than does Joshua Simon, who still turns in a fine job as Tucker, Beth’s distracted husband and partner. More comfortable playing rapid firing video games to unwind from unrelenting pressure at the office than interacting with his wife, Tucker literally tucks his feelings beneath a veneer of complacency.
BIGGER THAN YOU, BIGGER THAN ME
March 5 – 15
Anacostia Arts Center
1231 Good Hope Road, SE
Washington, DC 20020
1 hour, 40 minutes with no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
Tucker’s work in security is so tight that one slip could result in immediate dismissal or banishment from promotion. If a threat were imminent, he’d be the first to know, right? Nevertheless, he lets slip in several passive-aggressive asides that his job might be considered more relevant and urgent than a teacher’s. Beth lobs back with passion and vigor about changing the world by changing lives. Coughlin provides some cogent arguments for both as her characters volley the relevance and significance of their jobs at each other.
Direction by Nick Vargas, who is also the company’s Artistic Director, lets the tension build slowly. Small clues are innocently dropped, details that might mean nothing. But then you never know. Daniel Hogan’s sound design assures thrilling moments while Chris Holland does wonders with lights. The set by Collin Ranney is a crisp two level deal with comfortable entrances in the middle to both “apartment” units, and where even the front border can be a meeting ground.
While Field Trip Theatre has been producing new work for three years as part of the Capital Fringe and other festivals, this is its first launch of a full length production. Judging from the quality and caliber of Bigger Than You, the transition has been successful. Their mission is to stage new locally grown works that speak to this region. This new piece echoes the edgy threats on national security while exploring relationships that must adjust to an increasingly volatile world. This new theater company is already showing promise for the “innovative storytelling” that it nurtures and values in new works. That it’s got a complete season in the offering is worth seeing and saying something about.
Bigger Than You, Bigger Than Me by Kathryn Coughlin . Directed by Nick Vargas . Featuring: Sophie Schulman, Mia Branco, and Joshua Simon . Dramaturg: Megan Westman . Set design: Collin Ranney . Costume design: Jacy Barber . Lighting design: Chris Holland . Sound design: Daniel Hogan . Production Stage Manager; Amanda Herman . Produced by Field Trip Theatre . Reviewed by Debbie Jackson.