Review by Tulis McCall
(15 Sep 2010)
Lucy Thurber is a brave writer. She takes on subjects that most of us would like to see disappear. Grief, broken marriages, broken hearts. While she does this she also braids these themes with new love, revelation and discovery.
What she doesn’t do in Bottom of the World, is distill this recipe into one story, and therein lies the confusion.
Abigail (Chrystal A. Dickinson) is mourning her sister’s death. Her sister Kate (Jessica Love) is still very much alive for her - both in writing and in communication. Kate was a writer and left behind a notebook in which she wrote the story of two young men who were like brothers. The tale seesaws back and forth between these two storylines.
The two nineteenth century brothers share intimacies about growing up and out into the world, just as we suppose Abigail and her sister did. Now Abigail has a best friend, Susan (Aubrey Dollar), with whom she shares her own intimacies. The divorced parents in this life are the same crotchety but loving couple as in the story. Chums and lovers in this life take on similar roles in the story.
The difficult comes in trying to figure out why we have two stories when one would do just fine. There are transcendent moments in each ( a couple on their wedding night; sage and stumbling counsel from an older man to a grieving young woman; a dead sister’s remembered epiphany about being alive and overwhelmed. But just as we are pulled down one story line, the train switches tracks and we are back at another.
All the switching and turning is done with skill on an astonishing set by Walt Spangler that transforms the black box at Atlantic Stage 2 into a fantasy with a sense of humor as well as danger. The actors are unadorned and make the many character shifts look easy. The entire show is a pleasure to watch – and the music is a superb addition - but not so easy to follow.
What would have been more exciting for me would be to enter into the world of grief that Thurber introduces. If you are old enough to read this you know that grief has layers, stages and colors. It never really leaves us. It just settles like a fine layer of dust into the cracks of our lives until something comes along and kicks it up. Lucy Thurber has created characters who are willing to walk the scary path of grief and lift a light to lead us. Now all she has to do is let them tell the story.
"A hollow, uninvolving evening of theater."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"By the end, you may feel tears well up. The play's real achievement is that this emotion was honestly earned."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"An uneven comedy-drama that only half succeeds."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"Director Caitriona McLaughlin's eight actors can do little with such an impossibly fragmented script and mostly give flat performances."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"Thurber takes her story from a manuscript written by a dead woman and left behind for her sister to read. Neither sister benefits from this awkward narrative device"
Marilyn Stasio for Variety