BWW Review: That Which Defines and Divides in FIERCELY INDEPENDENT
Immediately after the curtain call, I turned to my friend and said that I would have absolutely no problem staying right where we were at sitting through this show all over again. She is going through circumstances similar to those we had just seen acted out, and not only did she also thoroughly enjoy it, we began referencing the play in our later conversation. Relationships -simply put, they're just so hard sometimes - they can be something of beauty one moment, and the very next day seem irrevocably lost. Especially for those who struggle with staying in love with the person they once chose above all others, it seems that the rekindled hope of one day is superseded by the harsh reality of the next; it is as though happiness is a precarious thing, leaving us terrified that it will not last into the next day and we have to confront our sadness alone. It is such a horrible feeling when that love for both yourself and another is jeopardized.
When love feels so fleeting, the push and pull of harsh words and wild emotions is no longer about keeping someone; it becomes more about lingering long enough until we are prepared to fully acknowledge our defeat. That is what makes Fiercely Independent so wonderful, even though also so sad: it pulls the mirror up in front of us, whether we have experienced such a thing or not, and asks us to reflect on what people are supposed to do. Would we rather watch ourselves fall out of love with the person we thought was forever ours, or wind up alone?
Written and directed by Kathleen K. Johnson and now in performances at the Soho Playhouse, Fiercely Independent is truthfully so well written, so well acted and is overall an experience that people are not likely to forget. I loved every captivating minute of it. This is a rare kind of show that does not have a message or agenda, and does not seek to sway our opinions about relationships in any way; it is not meant to change, but compels us to simply watch and feel (with every emotion we can muster) - to attempt to understand the agony of a relationship on the brink of falling apart. If you do know how this feels, you are mesmerized by how unbelievably attracted you are to the emotions which fly off that stage; if you don't know, watching this performance makes you feel as though now you do.
Fiercely Independent is a stilled moment in time, where nothing can penetrate the world these two have created inside a modest hotel room. It is ironically similar to the feeling one gets when in love, as though nothing else beyond what is experienced in that moment matters - as though time does not exist except upon the dreadful realization that it has run out. In this case, though, our couple is sharply aware of why they have concealed themselves in a room for twenty-four hours: they are trying to save their marriage. They strive to prove that, no matter the hardships and dissatisfaction of four married years, their senses (even if not their understanding) make them strive to still belong together. Julie and Robert check into a hotel room with guidelines written on a plain piece of paper: without distractions of any kind, they are encouraged to try and rekindle their relationship. Before leaving that room, they must come to a decision about whether there is anything left of their relationship to save. What ensues next is a heartbreaking breakdown of how two "fiercely independent" people try to salvage a marriage that, from the start, was built on rocky ground.
This entire experience seems to happen in slow motion yet with the force of drama all at once - there is a rush of anger followed by love and hope, only to be followed by the despair on Julie's face when the happiness of the night before seemed only a short-lived dream. As this distraught couple fights over and for their marriage, their attempts gradually break down to the simplicity of their own desires. Julie is desperately unhappy by how she is no longer in love with her husband; Robert is annoyed by Julie's personality and constant need for attention. Theirs is an absolutely beautiful display of what it is to simply be human - to strive for self-control in the throes of gut-wrenching feelings; what it is to see you entire world fall apart after you were just about to pick yourself back up again.
Caitlin Gallogly and Christopher M. Smith are the perfect imperfect couple. Through simple interaction, they take the audience on a transformative journey: from the idea of "husband and wife," to that of "man and woman" and finally just "you and me," they are masters at capturing the real, heart-wrenching and very human attempt to find oneself again within the consequences of who we used to be. These two wonderful actors teach us that there is no such thing as being right or wrong; there cannot exist any judgment or verdicts outside of what they experience. Hope is universal, not based on gender or circumstance; to know that there is something better is only superseded by the chance to actually see it come to fruition.
Caitlin walked off the stage and back on again for the curtain call with tears in her eyes; the anxiety and hurt, from beginning to end, was always written on her face. It brought back memories for whoever once knew these feelings well. This production is so riveting because of how this cast and creative team just understand how to capture the audience's mood and keep it hostage; they know that what is most riveting is that which we can feel so deeply yet have so much trouble to understand.
Simply put, I loved this show, and I have a strong feeling you will too.
Fiercely Independent has set and lighting design by Will Cotton, costume design by Rodney Harper, with original music and lyrics by Andrew David Sotomayor. Recorded and produced by Erik Gloege, with song performed by George Bugatti. Jordan Sobel also joins the cast as the disappearing Bellman, whose constant interruptions acts as a sort of tabula rasa to our couple's circumstances.
Produced by Michael Guccione, Fiercely Independent began performances at the Soho Playhouse (located at 15 Vandam Street) on March 6th and will run thru April 7th. Performances are Wednesday-Friday at 7 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and 7 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $59 and can be purchased at http://www.fiercelysoho.com or by calling (212) 691-1555.
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg