Walden – Online via TheaterWorks Hartford
Writer: Amy Berryman
Director: Mei Ann Teo
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler
An outdoor production with a live audience, recorded for a virtual audience to watch indoors, Amy Berryman’s Walden confronts our technological barriers both in its presentation and in its history. The creative team and the characters take on the challenges of their historic moment.
Located in an unspecified time, a few decades in the future, and an unspecified location, several kilometers south of the US-Canada border, we are introduced to Bryan and Stella (beautifully played by Gabriel Brown and Diana Oh) in their little cabin in the woods. They’re expecting a guest, who we’ll find out later is Stella’s twin sister Cassie (well played by Jeena Yi). When Bryan leaves the room, Stella pulls out a device from which she hears a report from a Moon Habitat crew returning to Earth and an area of the east coast recently hit by a mega-tsunami, where a million people are missing. are now presumed dead. .
Cassie arrives with a mask. If the air in the passenger compartment is pure and breathable, this is an exception to the rule. As her visit progresses, we learn that she is a member of NASA’s Moon Habitat team. Stella also worked for NASA, but now she lives off-grid with her fiancé Bryan, an activist who fights for the recovery of Earth from the colonization of space. These conflicting ideologies are at the root of the questions that Walden pose and explore (coincidentally with the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Are we at an environmental tipping point from which the next generation of humans cannot return? Are the solutions for the survival of humanity found by repairing this planet or by colonizing other worlds? Should we choose one over the other?
Along with the great questions of human existence and in the face of our inability to be good stewards of the Earth, Walden lovingly dives into the complications of relationships. Regardless of our external technological evolution, humans remain largely unchanged in our personal interactions and emotional wiring. Family stories of loss and trauma, as well as individual struggles of failure and success, are and will continue to be relevant (and possibly central) in our daily lives.
Berryman’s script subtly but clearly uses each of the play’s relationship pairs to represent the need for groups with conflicting ideologies to come together to make healthy strides towards survival. Science and technology can be both the problem and the solution.
Director Mei Ann Teo takes great care to balance the needs of a live production with the constructs of a recorded presentation. There is no attempt to hide from the live audience; their presence is in fact deliberately emphasized from start to finish, often linking long shots of the rear of the seating area to changes of scene and important entry and exit. It’s a little off-putting at first, but once the discomfort of an unfamiliar experience wears off and the bigger picture becomes clearer, you see the benefit of Teo’s choices. She weaves together the best and the worst aspects of a live audience while accomplishing more than just recording a piece for digital platforms.
The live room makes good use of the exterior setting. The slowly fading daylight ties in perfectly with the story’s timeline, and Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s lighting design creates the perfect atmosphere of thunderstorms and generator usage during an outage. electricity. The playing space extends beyond the confines of the booth, creating a long and deep staging area that allows for a more dynamic presentation. A train can be heard in the distance several times, but this does not appear to be part of the room. Maybe the live audience can’t hear it because they’re all wearing headphones, but for home audiences, these are the rare times when the production site briefly interferes with the viewing experience.
Aside from minor distractions, Walden is a timely, moving and sincere theatrical work. The in-person experience has to offer something that home viewing does not, although the reverse is just as true. Whatever your chance to get involved, Walden worth the trip.
Until August 29, 2021 | Photo credit: Christophe Capozziello