There are some terrific actors in this play, and that should be reason enough to go, but I can’t quite bring myself to recommend that you do.
What We Once Felt is a story set in the future where people are divided into Keepers and Tradepack. The Keepers own everything and run everything. The Keepers are allowed to have children – one per couple – who are called Downloads. The children are delivered in the form of little pills in large boxes. A woman takes the pill and 9 months later there is a Baby Keeper – unless there is an Error. Nobody wants an Error.
The Tradepacks own nothing and do all the dirty work. There are a few Tradepacks who pass for Keepers and live their lives looking over their shoulders. There is also a movement afoot to get rid of the Tradepacks, kind of like the movement in America that tried to send the slaves back to Africa. Kind of like that. This project is called The Transition, and the idea is that, with the right propaganda, the Tradepacks will want to die and move on to Paradise.
I never got exactly why the Tradepacks are personae non gratae except that they are sort of sad and lonely, but who doesn’t feel like that once in awhile? Also unmentioned is just who is going to be replacing the Tradepacks as the worker bees when they are wiped off the earth, which we know is going to happen.
There are no men. Period.
Somewhere in here a writer, Macy O. Blonsky (Mia Barron), sneaks into the higher food chain with a book that is going to become the last published book. All she has to do is hand over her Scan Card so that the head of the publishing house, Claire Monsoon (Opal Alladin) can get pregnant. Claire can’t get her own card because she is a Tradepack passing for a Keeper.
Macy agrees to exchange her Scan Card for her book being published. No mention of what she will do without her Scan Card for 6-9 months. It’s like loosing your monthly Metro Card over and over again multiplied by 100, but no ones seems to bat an eye about this.
Are you getting dizzy yet? Well, you should be. This play has more subplots than a graveyard. The original idea of the last book being published is intriguing, especially today as we are looking at newspapers folding like garden flowers after the first frost. Left alone, that idea might have worked itself up into an play that was unsettling. Perhaps that was Ms. Healy’s intent. It was not the result.
As I said, there are some terrific actors in this play. They are able to create choice morsels that dot the landscape. Every once in awhile the threat of this fascism of the future does break through. Those moments are chilling and fine. But they are not enough to overcome a script that is more mush than meat.
CHARLES ISHERWOOD for NEW YORK TIMES says, "Peculiar and ambitious but thoroughly unsatisfying play."
JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ for THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says, "While her Dialogue is crisp, at times the plot is too complex."
JOHN SIMON for BLOOMBERG says, "Overlong, underwhelming"
ADAM R. PERLMAN for BACK STAGE says, "Portentous batch of dystopian tripe"
JENNIFER FARRAR for ASSOCIATED PRESS says, "Thoughtful new satire"
SAM THIELMAN for VARIETY says, "Healy's parallel universe doesn't hold together terribly well"