BWW Review: Will Eno's Charming and Sweetly Philosophical THE UNDERLYING CHRIS
Time stands still but life goes on might be one way of looking at Will Eno's charming and sweetly philosophical The Underlying Chris, receiving a fine premiere production directed by Kenny Leon at Second Stage.
"The subject is life on Earth," a young girl in a men's suit explains to the audience on the outset.
"It's a story about the moments that shape a life, and the people who shape a moment," she continues, in a prologue speech that includes mentions of identity, change, newness and renewal.
The off-beat little intro is delivered with straightforward sincerity by Isabella Russo, one of eleven members of the play's ensemble who take turns playing the title role, initially called Chris, but variations include Christiana, Christopher, Krista, Kit and Christine.
The 90-minute piece depicts a dozen scenes in Chris' life, with each actor playing the role being a bit older than the last and the character's race and gender fluidly varying. (Eno calls for "maximum diversity" in his script notes. Perhaps future productions will draw from a wider pool.)
But despite the differences in appearance, each Chris shares the same history, beginning with the unseen nearly three month old boy whose mother (Hannah Cabell) witnesses him hurting his back while playing with a stuffed carrot.
10 year old Chris (Nicholas Hutchinson) starts taking up swimming at the YMCA and adolescent Christine (played by Russo) is hospitalized after hitting her head on a dive.
Later on, we learn from Krista (Lizbeth McKay), in her 60s, that she wore a back brace when she was younger. ("A good day is when you find a bench," she waxes.) Kit (Michael Countryman), who is about ten years older, laments after a bad DMV experience, "I'm just starting to figure out who I am, and they take away my identification."
On her 82nd birthday, Christiana (Denise Burse), regarding her deteriorating body, concludes "I'm almost completely on the inside now."
But though Chris' age increases, the world Chris lives in always appears contemporary, thanks to the work of designers Arnulfo Maldonado (set) and Dede M. Ayite (costumes). Is everyone playing the same person, or are they all different people living similar lives at the same time? Either way, The Underlying Chris is a gentle reminder of our commonalities that go beyond outward appearances.