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    Carla Harting, Black-Eyed Susan, and Matthew Lewis in Crawl, Fade to White
    Photo by Jim Baldassare
    Carla Harting, Black-Eyed Susan, and Matthew Lewis

    Word Play

    Sheila Callaghan, 13P's 7th P, explores the underbelly of suburbia in her playful, ambitious "Crawl, Fade to White."


    13P's "Crawl, Fade to White" at the cavernous Ideal Glass Gallery was my first exposure to Sheila Callaghan's work, so I was initially startled by her novel, absurdist dialogue. There's something slightly skewed about each line — it's in English, but it doesn't follow conventional logic. She writes in a new idiom entirely, creating an unfamiliar dialect and fresh metaphors out of otherwise common English words. Like in "A Clockwork Orange" or the works of Irvine Welch, the innovative language starts to draw you into an alternative world, and eventually the novel absurdism makes more sense than familiar speech. By the middle of "Crawl", I was entranced more than bemused.

    Company: 13P.
    Written by: Sheila Callaghan.
    Directed by: Paul Willis.
    Cast: Matthew roi Berger, Shawtane Monroe Bowe, Carla Harting, Jocelyn Kuritsky, Matthew Lewis, and Black-Eyed Susan.
    Sound design by: Eric Shim.
    Set design by: Anna Kiraly.
    Costumes by: Jessica Pabst.
    Lighting design by: Ben Kato.
    Production stage manager: Pamela Salling.
    Assistant Director: Morgan Gould.
    Assistant Stage Managers: Morgan Gould, Tara Schuster.
    Prop Master: Teddy Nicholas.

    Related links: Official site
    Ideal Glass Gallery
    22 E. 22nd Street
    Previews start: Oct. 15, 2008
    Oct. 18 - Nov. 1, 2008

    "Crawl" is the story of April, an intense, stuttering science-girl who's dropped out of college ("I ate the school," she says), and brought her boyfriend home to her mother, Louise, who has given something precious to April for the odd neighbors to sell. The resonance of the characters and the suburban scene juxtaposed with the linguistically innovative script brings comedy, but the play also has a poignant quality. These characters have their own inescapable patterns and dark, strange eroticism. The set sprawls across the full theater space, and allows for simultaneous indoor and outdoor scenes as well as scenes where neighbors spy on each other through the windows. The play builds its own unique mythology, crawling under the surface of this voyeuristic suburbia, a suburbia reminiscent of David Lynch, or maybe A.M. Homes's "Music for Torching." The characters know one another's secrets, but are too bound by habit to understand their own.

    Carla Harting (foreground) and Jocelyn Kuritsky in Crawl, Fade to White  
    Photo by Jim Baldassare  
    Carla Harting (foreground) and Jocelyn Kuritsky
    "Crawl" succeeds largely because, while it's a work of magical realism with quirky language use, it doesn't lose its narrative thrust or disintegrate into a realm of pure irrationality. In this production, the characters are iconic, and their world, however strange, is internally coherent. Callaghan has a strong sense of the many ways that a script performed on a stage is radically different from the written word. Her bent dialogue requires audiences to take a leap of faith, catching up to the play's interior meaning and searching for aural, visual and emotional cues to understand what's going on.

    In this piece, the Louise character (deliciously played by Carla Harting) pulls us into ever-deeper dramatic territory. She's a seductress who works as a "beauty consultant", carries a mysterious briefcase and gets up to strange things that the neighbors can see from their window, and over the course of the play, we see flashbacks to her history — the rich family she left, her lost love, and her relationship with the now-grown daughter she had when she was sixteen. She's one part Annette Bening in "American Beauty" and two parts Marie in Büchner's "Woyzeck" — a gorgeous role for an actress at the height of her powers. The most haunting part of the script, to me, is the story of Louise's first meeting with April's father. Their hands touch in the bloody fur of a dog's corpse. The ways that this story is retold (by April, by Louise, and finally, visually) show how words performed on a stage can take on a life beyond themselves.

      "Crawl" succeeds largely because, while it's a work of magical realism with quirky language use, it doesn't lose its narrative thrust or disintegrate into a realm of pure irrationality.
    In my favorite plays, the script takes on a vibrant life without getting experimental with the language. Words can be revolutionized in a subtler way, and even at its best, the exercise of unconventional word use can't avoid being academic. Ideally, it would be used as a process for workshops, and then the playwright would brilliantly transform the zany script back into straightforward language, without ever losing the radical power and violent poetry of her words. As avant-garde theater goes, though, "Crawl, Fade to White" is rich and vivid, with a memorable style and an enduring vision.

    OCTOBER 24, 2008

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