Sunday, August 14, 2011

Shape-shifting and Other Puzzles in 'The Pillow Book'

Deb (Julie Fitzpatrick), Deb (Vanessa Wasche) and John (Eric Bryant) in “The Pillow Book.” Photos by Mike Klar.

BY TAMARA BECK

IN “The Pillow Book,”
marriage and personality are open to infinite possibilities.

There is confusion at the core of Anna Moench’s new play and it may have to do with Deb’s (Julie Fitzpatrick) and John’s (Eric Bryant) debate over having children and the difficulties such decisions often pose for couples. Or maybe it is about the greater confusion of the heart, of whom we love, and who we are.

Whatever the reasons for the bemusement in “The Pillow Book,” premiering at 59E59 Theaters through 20 Aug., identities are in flux. The couple try on different personas and histories. John is married to Deb, the lawyer or he is married to Deb (Vanessa Wasche), the doctor or guide on the Serengeti.

Like Eugene Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano,” in which seemingly ordinary characters are never what or who they seem, “The Pillow Book” is an absurdist work with its shape-shifter Debs and the uncertain John. But ultimately, “The Pillow Book” is about caring – for children, for pets, for each other, even for the environment.

John (Eric Bryant) and Deb (Vanessa Wasche) are an odd couple in "The Pillow Book."

AM, who in her stage directions describes the play as “a fluid collage of experiences and thoughts,” is one of the 2011 class of The Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group. (See http://www.bit.ly/kdOIoi).

Apparently, the play’s title draws its inspiration from a 10th century work by a lady of the Japanese court, Sei Sh┼Źnagon, whose free-form commentary on daily life and observations of events was kept as loose notes in a diary, or “pillow book,” something you write before retiring for the night. To underscore the title’s meaning, the characters arrange and rearrange a series of pillows, in a set designed by Maruti Evans, as each scene changes.

The timeline in “The Pillow Book” is the present, or the past, or the parallel or the imagined, but it makes pains to never predict the future.

While the work’s flights of fancy into elephant-hunting versus elephant tourism are snappy and diverting, it is the debate over having children, and Deb’s (JF) reasons not to, that is the most interesting part of the story in “The Pillow Book.”

Deb (Julie Fitzpatrick), Deb (Vanessa Wasche) and John (Eric Bryant) mix it up in “The Pillow Book.”

To be sure, there are promising sparks of intuition and “The Pillow Book” is conceptually interesting. It offers some kernels of connection in its odd plot. Ultimately, however, this play is mired in its own philosophical conundrums.

Visit http://www.59e59.org/ to learn more about “The Pillow Book.”

The Pearl Staging Revival of Absurd, 'The Bald Soprano'
Speaking of “The Bald Soprano,” it will have a revival under the direction of Hal Brooks at The Pearl Theatre Company from 13 Sept. through 23 Oct. at City Center's Stage II. Theatre of the absurd is a style of dramaturgy pioneered in France in the 1940s and that continued through the 1960s. It has strong ties to existential philosophy and investigating the meaning and purpose of life and presupposing that who we are is determined by our imaginations.

Visit http://http://www.pearltheatre.org/ to learn more about “The Bald Soprano.”


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