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      Suitcase, or Those that Resemble Flies from a Distance


    "Suitcase, or Those that Resemble Flies from a Distance," the new production at Soho Rep, reunites playwright Melissa James Gibson and director Daniel Aukin after the critically acclaimed "[sic]" in 2001. As in "[sic]," the characters of Suitcase are stranded in a limbo of intellectual misconceptions and frustrated communication attempts, only this time around they are all a bit older and more desperate, if none the wiser.

    Jen (Colleen Werthmann) and Sally (Christina Kirk) are trying to finish their dissertations, and for that, they need to keep their boyfriends away. They sit at desks raised on stilts, surrounded by books and boxes and lamps. They type, go through notes, turn lamps on and off; except, at the end of the day, they invariably end up talking to each other, or their boyfriends. Words never fail them. Or they always do, depending on the perspective. The problem is, their exchanges are impersonal — over the phone, through the intercom, peeking from peepholes and closed doors. They speak at each other and rarely do they actually listen. Yet, it is this struggle against the characters' self-inflicted loneliness and their attempts at communicating to each other that keep the audience interested.

    Written by: Melissa James Gibson.
    Directed by: Daniel Aukin.
    Cast: Christina Kirk, Thomas Jay Ryan, Jeremy Shamos and Colleen Werthmann.
    Sound design by: Shane Rettig.
    Set design by: Louisa Thompson.
    Lighting design: Matt Frey.
    Soho Repertory Theatre
    46 Walker St., bet. Broadway & Church
    Jan. 22 - Feb. 28, 2004

    The ensemble cast demonstrates great skill and talent honoring the playwright's rhythm, and the stop-and-go dialogue, the repetition of certain lines and the plays on words are often hilarious. As when Lyle (Thomas Jay Ryan) and Karl (Jeremy Shamos) engage in a name-repetition match, and although the only words they are saying are "Jen" and "Sally," they are able to convey a great array of emotions, from longing to desperation, vengeance and acceptance.

    One of the most interesting aspects of the play is the sense of voyeurism it exudes. Jen, whose dissertation literally analyzes garbage as a means to deduce identity, listens intently to a recorded private diary that could possibly be her own; Sally, whose dissertation, "Narrativus Interruptus," redundantly examines alternative means of storytelling structures, watches the family movies from a neighbor in the building across the street; they all listen to everyone else's conversations over the intercom or closed doors; and even as an audience member, the detail-oriented production (fabulous set by Louisa Thompson, who also designed "[sic]," makes you feel intimate even with the unseen neighbor across the street, in an almost Hitchcock-esque way), the intimate lighting and ambient sound effects make it almost impossible not to be completely absorbed. (Lighting is by Matt Frey and sound by Shane Rettig).

    The subtitle of the play, "Those Who Resemble Flies from a Distance," refers to an encyclopedia titled "The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge," attributed by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges to Dr. Franz Kuhn in his essay "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins." According to Borges, Dr. Kuhn's taxonomy also includes categories such as "sirens," "those trembling like crazy" and "stray dogs." The characters in Suitcase may fall into more than one of these, but those looking for a fleshier plot might still be disappointed.

    FEBRUARY 15, 2004

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