Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The disorientation begins when the curtain rises on Debra Booth's set and the viewers realize they are facing another section of the audience, with a narrow stage located in between (a configuration only possible in the totally flexible Victor Shargai Theatre). This constriction of space challenges crew members to stay on top of their scenery shifts and lighting cues, not to mention keeping up with the projections and media designed by Alex Basco Koch and original music and sound design by Lindsay Jones.
The audience first sees Emma (Kristen Bush) having a breakdown while performing Anton Chekhov's The Seagull (the theater in-jokes are a bonus). She powers herself with alcohol and various drugs, but the rush she gets from performing also comes across as a form of addiction. "If I'm not in character, I'm not sure I'm alive," she tells a doctor (Jeanne Paulsen).
Director David Muse confidently brings together the naturalistic and hallucinatory elements of Macmillan's play. On one level, Emma finds her way to a rehab center and gradually accepts that she needs to stop isolating herself and participate in a therapy group. On another, she contends internally with alternate images of herself (played by cast members in look-alike costumes and wigs) and her mental images are projected onto the walls of the set.
Aside from Bush, whose performance shows an almost scary level of commitment to the role, the other cast members each play more than one character. Standouts include Nathan Whitmer as an orderly who becomes Emma's friend; Jahi Kearse as a patient learning to break out of old life patterns; and David Manis as an older patient with personality issues.
Andrew Cessna's lighting design adds to the overall sense of disorientation, while Helen Q. Huang's costumes range from scrubs for the rehab staff to character-defining pieces for Emma and the other patients.
People, Places & Things runs through December 11, 2022, in the Victor Shargai Theatre at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-332-3300 or visit www.studiotheatre.org.
By Duncan Macmillan
Emma: Kristen Bush