BWW Review: Lauren Gunderson's THE HEATH Creates Theatre Magic at Warehouse Theatre
I want to go deep, to really explore the green hillside and stark white walls that enclose Lauren Gunderson's THE HEATH.
I want to dig into the performances, of course, and the direction and the set and the lighting. But even more than that I want to unearth the deeper resonances, the way THE HEATH exposes the soul of a playwright, lays bare the way we can take our own family members for granted, just as we take for granted the myriad tiny miracles and happenstances that led to our own births.
I want to investigate the ideas and truths I first discovered in a fundamental, influential, transformative book about theatre called THE EMPTY SPACE by Peter Brook. I want to share his descriptions of Holy Theatre, of a theatre of the invisible-made-visible, to see how Gunderson and director Sean Daniels made the inside of Gunderson's own head come alive, how Miranda Barnett played a banjo and somehow, before we were prompted or even encouraged, got us all to sing along.
But this is a review and I'm already making the show sound more grandiose than it is, making it sound like it's some sort of experiment in bringing a theatre textbook to life. But THE HEATH is not that at all. THE HEATH is a play of fierce life and easy laughter and the mysterious power of music and stories to move - and transform - our hearts.
Miranda Barnett stars as Lauren, the playwright, who tells us at the top of the show how conflicted she is, how much she as a playwright is wrestling with structure and feelings and how to tell a story theatrically. Barnett is simply perfect in the role - warm, funny, heartbreaking - talking to us the whole time, sharing her process, her emotions, her truths. And her lies.
Mostly, Lauren tells us about her grandfather, KD - simply KD, nothing more, not short for anything else. KD is wrenchingly, brilliantly played by George Judy.
I want to tell you about George Judy's performance, about the way he creates a simple, charming, southern man, a WWII veteran with an eighth grade education who then worked in a mill for forty years. I want to convey the power, the range, the laughter and the rage he shows us. I want to tell you how beautifully he works with Miranda Barnett, what an amazing pair they are, how Barnett got me choked up early in the run, and smiling almost the whole time, and how her singing and playing the banjo turned an evening at the Warehouse Theatre into a sort of worship service.
But I know I don't have the words, the specificity, the recall, to convey the power of the evening, to tell you about the subtle beauty of Maranda DeBusk's lights and projections, of Tanya Orellana's shockingly perfect set, of the way director Sean Daniels keeps all these elements seamlessly balanced.
I want to tell you about the deceiving simplicity of the confessional tone, about the way Gunderson weaves together King Lear and music lessons and even scientific asides about the empty space between dendrites that mysteriously house the memories in our own brains.
I want to tell you about Peter Brook, who writes "I can take any space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged."
I want to tell you all these things. But more than anything, I just want to tell you to see THE HEATH and experience the simple magic of theatre.