Mia Amado, producer and director of Echoes, brings this piece about love and mental illness to the Eastman Theatre at Gallaudet. Echoes is by no means an easy play, in terms of execution and in subject matter. Playwright N. Richard Nash continually brushes up against the walls between reality and illusion, and asks whether or not the emotions felt in one can transfer to the other. As a result, the play strongly differentiates between the tangible and the fabricated, then blurs the lines where all matters of the soul are concerned. It is as if the show asks you: “What does it mean to love when you are broken?”
The story follows Tilda (Caity Brown) and Sammy (Mike Rudden) during their stay in an asylum. Their only means of happiness is to craft a reality in which they’re a couple, complete with the dressing of imaginary Christmas trees, games of baseball, and other more intangible games such as “Being Important” or “Enjoying Everything”. The two seek to combat the trauma of their situations, and the misery of their confinement by indulging in an imaginary relationship with one another. The cast is rounded out by “The Person”, a psychiatrist played with somber gravitas and professional bearing by Paul Rubenstein.
closes July 22, 2017
Details and tickets
Amado’s staging, while at times swift and purposeful, sometimes lacks the physical specificity required to make the piece really sing. The physical space reverberates with the feelings of those caged within, but shakes at the seams as the rules of the imaginary world appear unspecific and left too vague. As much of the action of the show is done via mime and games, it would have been excellent to see the two actors truly adhering to the rules of their own universe.
The geographical locations of things seem to shift, when constantly called to, and it leaves, as a result, a wibbly-wobbly sense of physical space, which detracts from the intended emotional blurring. The direction of the emotional arc of the piece leans heavily into yelling and high energy, giving the viewer little room to breathe. It almost felt like each scene was as high energy and as important as the climax of the piece, which begins to grate after a few scenes.
Echoes absolutely shines when the actors, and thus the audience, have a moment of rest, when clear, deliberate, and gentle choices are present. Those moments are most present when Rubenstein’s “The Person”, interacts silently with his patients.
Brown brings a frenetic, tense energy to Tilda, who appears to be suffering from schizophrenia. Rudden, in Tilda’s counterpart Sammy, leans toward a simple-minded, more straightforward thinker who takes the time to say exactly what he means in every moment. Both actors threw themselves heartily into the story and their characters with utmost vigor and intensity.
However, as mentioned above, that constancy of high energy made it feel as if both the actors would lose their voices at any momenBrown and Rudden’s abilities to rapidly process and express Tilda and Sammy’s emotions were at best, beautiful to watch in their almost tender, still moments, and at worst, unintelligible as they yelled their way through large chunks of text. It made it difficult to feel like the characters had a loving relationship (which the play hinges upon), because of the wild swings between sweet protestations of love and vicious, angry yelling at one another. Both actors likewise indulge in their games with an almost childlike glee, which seems to hint at Sammy’s autism, through physical tick and cadence.
In a sidenote, director Amado hopes that the play will help push the conversation towards dismantling the stigma around mental illness. However, with this production, she shows us two people suffering from very damaging mental illnesses who are manic, scream, flail about, and break down into screaming fits every two seconds. Knowing people with more severe illnesses such as schizophrenia and autism, it seems a little insulting that they would be portrayed so childishly. At their worst, it made it seem as if Tilda and Sammy were violent, unhinged, and irredeemable people, wholly unable to come to grips with anything around them. It would have been much nicer to see more fully fleshed out, human characters, who were not encompassed and completely at the whim of their illnesses, but rather who struggled against them in order to attain their hearts’ desires. It stands to no sense that dismantling stigma around mental illness means showing people at their worst, and showing their inability to distinguish fact from fiction.
On the technical side, the simple set, lighting (Joe Miller), and sound (Alessandro Gaiarin) served to enhance the story. The minimal effects highlighted, in its full glory, the emptiness of the world that Tilda and Sammy inhabited, which in turn made it all the more full when the two brought the workings of their inner world to life with imaginary Christmas Trees and baseball bats. It is precisely the sort of technical work one likes to encounter at Fringe – simple but elegant.
Capital Fringe stands as a sort of “proving grounds” for many young artists and companies. One of the great joys of the festival is finding shows produced and performed by dedicated artists with their sights set for the pinnacle of the world of professional theatre. Despite its shortcomings, this production has no shortage of heart. The energy and vigor poured into their work shines through in pivotal moments, as evidenced by the gentle gasps elicited by the audience. While they don’t always manage to reach the ambitious goals of the production, these artists show real flashes of promise. The Fringe Festival’s charm lies in finding these artists as they begin their journey, and watching them refine said natural talent, hone their craft, find their voice and produce more and more exciting work in the future. If you relish in finding these sorts of artists at the festival, then this production is most certainly for you.