Sometimes theatre amuses, sometimes it entertains, sometimes it moves. Oftentimes we get caught up in the protagonist’s journey, sometimes we are dazzled by technical brilliance. Then there are times when, as the audience, our obligation is to bear witness.
If there’s any hope for humanity, it is our heretofore underutilized capacity for empathy. I’ve also been watching Unbelievable on Netflix, a harrowing account of a rape victim who gets victimized as much by the legal system as by her attacker, and the theme resonates with ExPats Theatre’s presentation of Julya Rabinowich’s Surfacing, particularly the sub-title: An Inventory of Helplessness.
Here we have three characters, known only as A, B and C, all of whom are trapped, separately, in confined environments and totally dependent on others. A is a refugee hiding in Vienna; thanks to a loophole in immigration laws, she must survive six months to avoid being deported without a hearing. B has been kidnapped, repeatedly beaten and raped and confined to a basement. C is a young Albanian man trapped in his house to avoid revenge killings from a generations-long dispute. Their desperation and frustration grows; their lives are indefinitely on hold, and they are utterly powerless.
The presentation is spare and minimal. A has a bed, B a large cardboard box, C a small sofa, all in tightly taped-out squares that both define and confine. This is their entire world.
Surfacing closes Sunday, September 29, 2019. Details and tickets
Their simultaneous soliloquies are abstract, sometimes frustratingly so, but serve to universalize their plights and avoid didacticism. We don’t get much sense of their histories, or the specifics of how they came to be in their situations, but then, their focus is on survival, the here-and-now. Their stories are the stories of millions of people, not just in Europe, but everywhere. Even here.
Rabinowich’s play is the premiere production of ExPats Theatre, led by Artistic Director Karin Rosnizeck, who translated the play from German into English and directs. Fresh from a Capital Fringe production (which DCTC reviewed here), the script is expanded and movement elements added to flesh out the piece to a full hour.
[adsanity_rotating align=”aligncenter” time=”10″ group_id=”1455″ /]
The three actors, Nichole Chimere, Christine Jacobs, and Greg Ongao, deliver open and vulnerable performances, effectively balancing their characters’ desperation with their optimism and will to survive. Erica Rebollar’s movement elements occasionally veer into inscrutability but largely, if obliquely, reflect the characters’ inner torments. The technical elements support, magnify and elevate the actors’ performances, particularly the sound/musicscapes (uncredited) and Johnny Dahm Robertson’s projections.
There are people, especially in Washington DC, who need reminders of the human tragedies playing out on our borders and around the world. This play would be an effective wakeup call for them, in the altogether unlikely event that they actually attend, which is a human tragedy of another sort. As for those who do submit themselves to this intriguing piece, they must bear witness.
Surfacing: An Inventory of Helplessness by Julya Rabinowich, translated and directed by Karin Rosnizeck. Cast: Nichole Chimere (A), Christine Jacobs (B), Greg Ongao (C). Choreography: Erica Rebollar. Lighting Design: Ian Claar. Scenic/Projection Design: Johnny Dahm Robertson. Stage Managers: Laura Schlachtmeyer, Bryand Minix. Produced by ExPats Theatre. Review by John Geoffrion.