BWW Reviews: A Hint of Hope Beyond THE CLEARING
When a person is faced with the overwhelming beauty and quietude of the world around him, as seen through the crisp leaves of the surrounding trees or the rocks which reside on the steep slope below, leading into an unknown and unsought after abyss, one cannot help but look up at the stars and think about life - a free mind allowed to romp after abandoned dreams, or perhaps desires that have yet to be fulfilled. Without a need to say anything at all, a person relapses into himself, only deciding later on what is to be done in this game called "life." It is a moment in time that does not constitute the mundane and typical functioning of life. It is, indeed, an escape. Peter, the catalyst that brings about necessary change in Jake Jeppson's new play The Clearing, captures this feeling quite well in his statement towards the play's end: "There is no heaven. At least not yet. There's just this space where you wait for God to tell you what to do." This space simultaneously limits and liberates a person's ability to not simply live, but thrive - to do more than simply survive, yet live complaisantly until that change appears to make it better. The irony of the great outdoors and the psychologically trapped brothers who return, year after year, to this clearing as an almost essential asset of their absolute beings, makes for nothing less than a stunning and incredibly fascinating play.
Directed by Josh Hecht, The Clearing (making its world premiere at Midtown's very own Theatre at St. Clement's) tells the story of two brothers whose "escape" from the world happens one day through an exciting trip to the clearing with their father, yet ends in a tragedy which forces both Chris (Brian P. Murphy) and Les (Brian McManamon) to subsequently live in an inescapable world of sadness and psychological pain; they become the subhuman products of an event which occurred through no fault of their own. Their example is one of humanity slowly slipping away from two individuals who were once free to live before being subjected to wait for the unsuspecting hand of change to invade their miserable lives - to lift them from this depression which invariably brings them together, yet slowly feeds on their will to function as the years go by.
Taking F. Scott Fitzgerald's observation of a "past that year by year recedes before us" is the world in which these brothers are trapped: a bleak, inescapable brotherhood which is really based more on need than love. The secret of this childhood tragedy fundamentally binds both brothers in a dysfunctional relationship for eighteen years and counting, leaving Little Room for their mother (Allison Daugherty), and least of all for Les' new love interest, Peter (Gene Gallerano).
Peter serves as the catalyst in Jeppson's play - that person whose sole responsibility, it seems, is to bring about the change that is so necessary in the life of another; typically, such a character is portrayed as a martyr, and thus leaves the story when there is no longer any need for him. Peter also serves as the play's narrator, provoking the audience with certain metaphysical questions at different intervals of his story, providing a sort of guideline for those attending this tale - a scope through which to approach all those events and ideas which constitute this play. The play is already imbued an existentialist touch, alluding to the idea that people are bequeathed with their given lives without their consent and must thus make of it what they will, and Peter's responsibility as narrator creates that necessary connection between character and audience. He reminds each member of the audience that everyone must share in the turmoil that is occurring on stage - that, even though many have not experienced the tragedy faced by these brothers eighteen long years ago, there is something in each of our lives that can relate to what is happening upon the stage.
Everyone has suffered due to loss, death or simply because of loneliness or dissatisfaction with oneself and the way in which life has turned out; Peter simply invites the audience to ponder, for example, what it means to direct the focus on these aspects of our own lives towards the sad circumstance that is Les and Chris. So, when Peter positions himself in the center of this family, he begins to rattle cages that, for his sake, were better left alone. Gene Gallerano described his character as "electricity in water," and with this force will someone clearly get hurt.