|Much Better (photo Zoe Burchard)|
Really-Really Theatre Group
(at 12th Avenue Arts)
Through September 2, 2017
Is it better to feel too much or too little? If you are tormented by your feelings and if you pour your feelings all over your life and if people are exhausted by your feelings and want to avoid too much time with you, is the answer to get your feelings surgically lessened?
This is the essential question in a science fiction play by Elisabeth Frankel, now being presented by new theater company, Really-Really Theatre Group. Much Better debates Ashley’s dilemma as a hyper-empath. Ashley not only feels her own feelings, she feels other people’s too!
But there is a solution, she finds. A technology called “Neuroclear” will lower her ability to feel, and perhaps bring her a measure of relief. It’s pretty clear, though, that it’s permanent, and like all technologies, there could be unintended consequences.
Frankel’s new play was a semi-finalist for the 2017 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and since this work may still be in-progress, this might best be termed a “developmental production,” as opposed to a world premiere. Still, it’s brand new. Her play is a solidly presented one, with a clear premise and well-thought-out sequences. That’s something not always embedded in new work. So, that’s a definite plus.
The cast is also a solid group, beginning with Ashley as played by Alysha Curry. Curry has to begin as a hyper-empath and also a kind of overly-bubbly word-froth of a personality, dumping everything that she feels on people around her to eventually becoming calmer and calmer and more and more removed. Curry manages this transition beautifully, and in a managed progression that works to perfectly step through all the phases.
Cleanly directed by Henry Nettleton, the supporting cast include a best-work-friend played by Ali Lawrence, a best-high-school-friend played by Nick Ferrucci, a potential date, played by Garrison Whaley-Sharp, and the doctor from Neuroclear, played by Lamar Legend. Each of them has realistic moments of interaction with Ashley that ring true-to-life.
The best-friend deals with a friend who is a lot to deal with, but whom she admires for being able to express herself, and then loses to the lack of emotion. The doctor tries to help her understand the consequences, but is caught in the success his technology brought to his own life.
A cool lighting design that looks a bit futuristic, is provided by Aaron Tacy and lots of interesting sound effects are provided by Charlie Spears.
The play is about 80 minutes and ends ambiguously, which is not a negative. After all, the question – “is too much emotion a good or bad thing?” – is essentially almost unanswerable. The play makes us contemplate if emotion is really what sets us apart from all the other animal species. Sure, animals have feelings! We know dogs and cats can be happy or excited or angry. But the nuances of thought and speech also mean that human emotion might be significantly more varied and intense than other animals.
While you’re not likely to leave the show feeling happy, you may well feel contemplative and thoughtful. Sounds like a pretty good night of theater to me…