By Brittany Crowell
Peter Gnit, the title character in Will Eno’s Gnit at Theatre For A New Audience this November is searching for his “true self.” Along the way he travels far and encounters many, but also leaves much behind. An absurd and dry piece, this modern retelling of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt showcases wry humor, transformative performances, and deep heart.
Joining Peter Gnit on his journey are many townspeople, trolls, and travelers, who are played by a pared-down cast of four ensemble members. Deborah Hedwall plays Peter’s mother in a particularly wry performance that brings a lot of the humor to the piece. She is joined by Peter’s lover Solvay (played by Jasmine Batchelor) and three performers who play the various strangers Peter meets along the way, including David Shih’s portrayal of the many townspeople, which he performs himself turning from one personality to another in hilarious fashion. Jordan Bellow (stranger 1) and Christy Escobar (Stranger 2) each transform from character to character within mere moments, transporting us along the journey of Peter Gnit while also having an eerie similarity to those who came before and highlighting the other-ness of Peter and isolation along his journey.
Here it also bears acknowledging the costume design by Ásta Bennie Hostetter and Avery Reed and the wonderful wardrobe crew who easefully and speedily transition the cast between characters in a way that almost causes you to forget that the pastor you see in front of you was the sphynx gift salesperson just a few short minutes ago.
The scenic design by Kimi Nishikawa consists of one large mossy unit on the stage that transforms from the hills of Norway to the beaches of Morocco, to the dunes of Egypt (assisted by lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker). The unit harkens a storybook, and additional house cut outs float down onto the stage almost like out of pop-up books, highlighting the fable and mythical nature of this story and giving room for its absurd twists and turns.
Peter Gnit himself admits that he may not be the most sympathetic character, though as he is portrayed by Joe Curnutte, we see an internal dialogue between sympathy, apathy, and a commitment to the journey within him. As he looks back upon his journey at the end of the play, we wonder – was it worth it? Did he find the truest sense of self – and if he did, what did it cost him?
Running through November 21 only, Gnit is two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission, though the time flies by as the play moves swiftly from vignette to vignette. Director Oliver Butler greatly captures the humor and absurdism in Will Eno’s writing, but while also managing to find moments of feeling. If you are looking to be transported to another world, you will find yourself solidly in your seat, however, if you’re looking to question what it means to be truly yourself, this two hours will surely give you a lot to think about.
GNIT – by Will Eno; directed by Oliver Butler
Featuring: Jasmine Batchelor (Solvay); Jordan Bellow (Stranger 1); Joe Curnutte (Peter); Christy Escobar (Stranger 2); Deborah Hedwall (Mother); and David Shih (Town).
Scenic design by Kimie Nishikawa; costume design by Ásta Bennie Hostetter and Avery Reed; lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker; sound design by Lee Kinney; original composition and orchestrations by Daniel Kluger. Presented by Theater for a New Audience: Jeffrey Horowitz, artistic director; Dorothy Ryan, managing director. At the Polonsky Shakespeare Festival (262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, NY 11217). https://www.tfana.org/current-season/gnit/