As far as I am concerned this play could have been written in a foreign language and I would have understood it just about as much as I did this production. This is to say not at all!
It is a snowy day in Chicago 2013. At The Alexander Ames Chicago Black Book Publisher office, employees — Deb (Michi Barall), Chris (Teagle F. Bougere), Jan (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) and Tim (Donald Sage Mackay) schlep in from the cold. Soon they are joined by their boss Alexander Ames (Carl Lumbly) who is old school and now old. He is aged by years and aged by the death of his son who he thought would take over his business. Now business is slacking off and everyone knows there are cuts coming to this tiny firm as the Corporate Office inches closer and closer.
Outside in the main office area we see the allegiances switching faster than fleas on a dog. The two men; the two women; everyone gangs up on Jan - the oldest and the most outspoken; these are hungry animals stalking one another for the scraps they expect to be tossed out of the boss's office.
Although Ames is more interested in his crossword, one by one the employees, with the exception of Jan who has been sent out for coffee, come in to plead their worth. Ames is unmoved and turns the tables on each of them. Who would you let go? he asks. And one by one they throw each other under the bus. While all this is going on we get a trip down everyone's memory lane, as well as a description of Ame's son's shooting while standing on the street next to Ames. In short, we learn come about these people and nothing moves the plot along.
Ames remains disaffected so until the janitor who has been there all along, J (Ismael Cruz Córdova) catches his eye. It seems as though J can have multiple conversations and experience multiple dimensions all the while parading as a custodian. The two have a verbal pas de deux with Ames firmly in the present and past and J completely in the future. Ames loves book. J sees no need to learn to read because soon everything will be transmitted mentally. They spar and challenge each other, and while it is delightful to watch these two actors work, the dialogue leads pretty much nowhere.
Finally Ames decides that instead of firing people he will hire J. The Corporate Office is asking for a new plan or they will take over. Ames gambles that J will have the answer. This puts the entire staff into a tizzy, and they decide to circle the wagons. This doesn't work of course, especially when J reveals an impromptu sculpture of Ames son. For the rest of the time, as snow piles up, he and Ames devote themselves to one another until he convinces Ames to take up a necklace that J has made. The necklace transports Ames out of time and space for a bit, and eventually, through an unprotected handshake, he is attached to J for good and vice versa.
All that is left is for Ames to lose his mind, which he does as the staff wonders when the snow will stop and what they will do with him when it does.
End of play. Ms. Taylor refers to this play as a tone poem on memory and change. To be honest I am not certain what that means.
I was, and remain, lost on this one. I haven't a clue. And though these excellent actors did their very best, they were not able lift this play up into the sense making dimension that I so desired. The fact that Ms. Taylor chose to direct this piece may also have been an impediment to making sense, or at least creating a cohesive performance. It is a rare writer who can direct her own work successfully.
Too bad no one thought to stop and reset for real.
"The handle suggests some kind of digital technology, and your hand may, in fact, itch for a remote control at many points during this often bewildering piece."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"There's little to admire about the play that she's written and directed."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Loony ramblings about alternate realities. Or something."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Comes across as a labored exercise in mental doodling."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...
New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Variety
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