BWW Review: THE THING WITH FEATHERS at The Barrow Group
The famous Emily Dickinson poem reads, "Hope is the thing with feathers--that perches on the soul--and sings the tune without words--and never stops--at all." The idea of hope continuing on after tragedy is the very notion that resonates with audiences after THE THING WITH FEATHERS by Scott Organ that is celebrating its premiere run at The Barrow Group.
The plot follows sixteen-year-old Anna (Alexa Shae Niziak) and her relationship with her online boyfriend Eric (Zachary Booth), who has convinced her that he is a college student and that he is in love with her after weeks of talking online, on the phone, and through over-pixelated video calls. The play strikes a cord by tapping into the modern dating world and using the premise of online dating and "catfishing" as a device to propel Anna's life into turmoil, fueled by irrevocably bad decisions made by her mother and secrets that begin to resurface when Eric arrives in person on Anna's seventeenth birthday.
Clocking in at almost two hours long (with an intermission), Organ's play seems to take a lot of time to build then is suddenly in chaos when secrets are revealed at the end of act one. But the show is easy to watch because Organ's characters are lively, and the cadence of speech between Anna and Eric balances beautifully between the prosaic and extremely realistic. Organ manages to capture the awkwardness of online dating and the confusion and hesitation of intimately getting to know someone through some form of technology before meeting them in person or hearing more than their voice.
And while the dialogue between Anna and Eric is believable, there is some work to be done with the relationship between Anna and her mother Beth (DeAnna Lenhart), who had Anna at a young age and has been divorced for most of her adult life. Beth comes off as trying too hard to act young and impress her daughter, and when the revelations in act two surface, it is hard to imagine Beth as a person who is able to grow and mature after her past decisions wreak havoc on her life.
What this show occasionally lacks in believability, in terms of dialogue, is remedied by clever blocking and set design by Seth Barrish and Edward T. Morris. Morris has created a space that feels like a home--the hurricane blown mess of a teenager is contrasted with the minimal and clean kitchen area frequented by a mother whose main mess is leaving wine-stained glasses in the sink. The kitchen table where Anna and Beth are forced to interact in a familial capacity is used in the blocking of characters to reiterate the space between them and the physicality of not being allowed or able to be close to one another.
THE THING WITH FEATHERS is a play packed with tough and relevant subject matter that comes at at time when the #MeToo movement is dominating social media, and it attempts to tackle these issues with a twist that will keep audiences attentive through the second act. According to Dickinson, hope--once perched--never stops, but this play attempts to show what can happen when the idea of hope is changed and questioned and asks what, if any, version of love is strong enough to keep hope alive when all else seems lost.
Photo Credit: Todd Cerveris