The atmosphere is festive over at the IRT Theater on Christopher Street. As you enter the intimate space, small yellow and blue lights are strung across the ceiling giving a carnival like look to the room and the background music playing brings back fond memories of Fellini’s La Strada. Drinks can be purchased. All this to set you up to witness the slow and agonizing death of Paul.
Central Figure Paul (Ted Caine) rather poor Paul is mostly comatose. Only his fingers twitch. The only sounds he makes are when he sits up abruptly in agony. He is in a hospital bed. Dying.
Death. Playwright Diana Amsterdam dares to take on this difficult subject matter in a macabre, surreal and sometimes hilarious look at the last days and hours of someone dying. What do you tell the patient? Is it their fault that they are laying there in that horrible state? Can they tell you what they are thinking? Feeling? Can or should someone tell them the truth – that yes indeed they are not long for this world.
It’s a fascinating production. Beautifully directed with wit and compassion by Karen Kohlhaas, who has assembled some of the original actors from when it was first performed fourteen years ago at NYU. Carnival Round the Central Figure is powerful and poignant in this stylistic and wildly theatrical presentation.
Sheila (Christine Rowan) stands by her husband’s side totally in denial that he is dying. A couple from Rye – Kate (Danni Simon) a co-worker and Richard (Ed Stelz) visit. In dialogue that is often repeated we hear all the mundane chit chat that people talk about without including the patient. There is the omnipresent nurse (Kori Rushton) with her huge syringe all too willing to take another small drop of blood. And then we have the hospital psychologist lecturing us on death and survival. Livia Scott, with her calm and soothing voice and dead pan take on the role, is absolutely spellbinding.
As an Evangelist Shane LeCocq brings just the right amount of sleaze and satiric bite in his televised crusade, interviewing another couple – Becky (Cynthia Silver) and John (David Michael Kirby) who have to deal with the death of their daughter Pamela. Will they turn to God for guidance? Will Pamela survive? Pamela and Paul become interchangeable in the death process and it is only Kate, beautiful kind Kate who asks the all important question “Doesn’t everybody die?”
There are some rousing spirituals sung by the choir of six. Kitchen tiles spring to life from beneath Paul’s bed as we watch the carnival of people parade around the dying man. It is only Kate in a beautifully textured performance who has the strength to be real. To hold him in her arms and acknowledge what is happening and that it is all right.
All is right with The Carnival round the Central Figure. Please make an effort to see it.
Tickets $18.00 Through January 30th. www.irttheater.org Photo: Deneka Peniston
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