Reviewed by Katherine Karlson
The Binghamton University Theatre Department launched its 2021-2022 season Thursday (Oct. 21) with a thought-provoking collection of one-act plays titled Triptych: An Experience in Three Acts. Director Elizabeth Mozer has carefully connected works by Bertolt Brecht, August Strindberg and contemporary playwright Kristin Idaszak through their respective takes on how we humans handle change and the difficult choices it forces us to make.
Each play is introduced by an appropriate and often poignant vocal interlude. Beth Nowicki and Bryan Strier set the coming mood with style and lyrical power thanks to the masterful accompaniment by pianist Julian Lamarti.
The haunting environmental ballad of the 1970s, “Mercy, Mercy Me,” lets the audience know that Idaszak’s Self Help in the Anthropocene deals with no ordinary summer heat wave. Ruby McEwan brings a lighthearted angst to the role of Joy, who tries to bring order to her cluttered environment and troubled mind as she ostensibly tidies up in anticipation of an evening party. Joy’s decluttering binge can’t quite hide the growing fears that her world is rapidly falling apart due to climate change. She mourns the disappearance of coffee, chocolate and chicken as she remembers the good times that she and her wife, played by Kae Duval, had collecting silly souvenir items across the country. She bids “farewell” to each and the healthy world that allowed the two women to collect them: “You can’t see extinction; you can see only empty skies.”
Joy cannot decide if her two recent dreams of a childhood refuge — one full of life, the other a desolate landscape — are prophetic of the future or memories of the past. Her wife, who knows the dirty secrets about the current extinction crisis, suddenly appears and tells Joy they must escape as a series of ominous pounding knocks at their door end the scene.
The wistful love song “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” sets up the next play, Strindberg’s The Stronger, which offers a dramatic contrast between the voluable Madame X (Mary Chattin) and the always-silent Mademoiselle Y (Alli Greenwood). Although her character never speaks, Greenwood does a remarkable job of conveying as wide a range of emotions and thoughts as does her opponent. The challenge these two women face comes not so much as romantic rivals for the unseen husband, but as the victor in the struggle over self-determination.
“Everything came from you to me,” says Madame X, who lists the influence the former fiancėe still has on the marriage and all its life choices, from the son’s name to a family vacation spot. Yet, in the end, it is the still-silent Mademoiselle Y who stoically picks up a suitcase and leaves for an unknown destination and an equally unknown fate.
The final play begins with the song, “Tomorrow is My Turn,” which has the sinister echo of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” from Cabaret. The comparison is apt because Judith, Brecht’s titular “Jewish Wife,” is packing to escape the coming Nazi storm of the Holocaust, which she can sense, but her gentile husband, Fritz, shrugs off. As Judith, Jillian Carley hides her growing unease while calling her bridge partner and other friends to say she’ll be away for a few days. That timeline advances into the indefinite as she faces the reality of her journey.
It’s not a psychic recharge; it’s her very survival, and Carley reveals that realization with subtle delicacy. She challenges Fritz, played by Cameron Reilly-Steele, to admit his antisemitism even in the early days of their marriage, but he maintains the fiction that the threat she understands will engulf them all is “only for a couple of weeks.”
The dramatic triptych neatly links three women, three different challenges and three different solutions in a well-crafted whole.
IF YOU GO: Performances of Triptych: An Experience in Three Acts will be at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 22-24) in the Anderson Center Chamber Hall on the BU campus. Tickets at $20 ($15 for seniors, $10 for students/children) can be purchased by calling 607-777-ARTS (607-777-2787) or visiting Binghamton.edu/Anderson-center.