Surfacing: An Inventory of Helplessness is less a story than a meditation on a condition. And the condition is grim. A (Yvonne Paretsky) seeks refuge in Vienna. The law is that if she can escape deportation for six months, she cannot be removed until her refugee status is resolved. So she hides, under unspeakable conditions, utterly dependent in the ministrations of G, who must keep her fed and hydrated.
B (Christine Jacobs) is a woman who has been kidnapped by a man. He keeps her locked in a basement. He tells her he loves her. He beats her.
C (Danny Santiago) is a man who has been involved in a series of inter-generational, inter-familial honor killings. As a result, he cannot leave his house, unless he is prepared to renounce his family. This he refuses to do. He depends on the friendship of J, who mediates the outside world to him.
A, B, and C deliver serial monologues about their plights. They are unaware of each other. A is on a bed; B is in a barrel, C is in a tiny roped-off square. They are in different countries. They are in different worlds.
But sometimes they rage simultaneously, which underscores what appears to be playwright Julya Rabinowich’s point: that they all have the same dilemma, though suffered in different forms. They are all prisoners — whether it be of a state bureaucracy with insane laws, or of a madman for whom love and torture are inexplicably intertwined, or of their own making, in a consensual game of mutual destruction.
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Another title for this play might be Waiting, since that’s what these characters do for the duration of the play. They wait for redemption — which is to say, a normal life, like ours.
Surfacing at Capital Fringe Festival closes July 28, 2019. Details and tickets
There is no growth here, or catharsis. The characters are in the same dilemma at the end of this 35 minute play as they are at the beginning. They have gained no insight into their dilemma, nor is there insight to be gained. Director Karin Rosnizeck, who translated the play from its original Austrian, makes the play what its subtitle promises that it is: an inventory of helplessness. Notwithstanding, the actors each play more than note. They are hopeful and wistful, mournful and resolved, before turning into anger and despair.
There is a sort of eat-your-vegetables quality to Surfacing. There’s no dramatic catharsis or satisfaction, and it is the farthest thing from a comedy that you might imagine. Still, vegetables are nourishing, too, and we may need a few more of them in our diet.
Surfacing, An Inventory of Helplessness by Julya Rabinowich, translated and directed by Karin Rosnizeck, choreographed by Erica Rebollar, featuring Yvonne Paretsky, Christine Jacobs, and Danny Santiago . Lighting Director: Ian Claar . Stage manager: Lauea Schlachtmeyer . Produced by ExPats Theatre for the 2019 Capital Fringe . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.