By Tulis McCall
Now that Deidre O’Connell has won a Tony (finally) and everyone is rushing to see Corsicana at Playwrights Horizons, the rest of us who have watched O’Connell for a few decades can say, “We TOLD you so…”
Like almost everything O’Connell chooses to join, “Corsicana” is an odd bit of business. Corsicana is a no-where town in Texas where it feels like everyone is strange, or broken, or plain old broke. It is so still that the merest conversation makes the air molecules jangle against one another. On the rare occasion when there is conversation, it is less than perky. If things get a little exciting the characters are reminded that, “The word ‘enthusiasm’ means ‘possessed by God’.”
As a whole, this play wanders out of the corral early on in search of a through line. It never comes back.
The story – such as it is – is this: Christopher (Will Dagger) and his half sister Ginny (Jamie Brewer) are grieving over the death of their mother, as is their mother’s best friend Justice (Deirdre O’Connell). They are all riding on a train that has run out of steam and coasted into the station.
They come up with a plan to ask the local recluse and multi-hyphenate artist Lott (Harold Surrat) to take Ginny on as a client. Lot is a musician and Ginny used to write songs. Lot is smart (Got a degree in experimental mathematics when he was 40. He proved the existence of God, he tells Christopher and threw the manuscript away) and now he focuses on art. We never see this art because it is hidden around an upstage corner where it stays. There is a lot hidden in this tale: hearts and hopes and dreams and songs. A whole bunch of hidden. Like time, for instance. When Lot agrees to work with Ginny on a Monday he realizes that now he has to figure out when Monday is. This means getting a calendar. It is a whole bunch of work to take a person into your life.
Mention must be made that Ginny is, at 34, Christopher’s older sister (a fact of which she reminds him many times over). Ginny also has Down Syndrome (as does Brewer). She is highly functional, but she does require some supervision. Here is our first stumbling point – why would anyone ask a town recluse to spend alone time with someone with Down Syndrome? Seems odd to me.
The rehearsals do not go well when intimacy raises its head – nothing untoward, but then it doesn’t take much to push a recluse into a corner. Things blow up in a quiet, stumbling sort of way.
There is an intimacy here as though the air were being tucked in around these four people. Visions and ghosts come up in their conversation. They never stray far from one another as though they are tethered by magical ropes stretching from the past into the future. Hope and progress are measured in molecules in Corsicana. If larger dreams were considered the entire town would come crumbling down. Even the set is mirrored images of a spartan home. It revolves back and forth and the actors move the metal frame of the playing area up and down stage as if inviting us to expand and then cautioning us to contract.
This is a town where nobody is going anywhere so they look to one another for connection. As the play winds to a close we see the teeniest glimmer of hope. Not enough to make any of us want to live in Corsicana, but it does crack the door open.
And not for nothing – 2 hours and 30 minutes is just too damn long! The conversation becomes repetitive which isn’t good for anyone – the cast or those of us watching. We could lose 30 minutes of this piece and not miss a beat of the tale.
Here is the entirety of O’Connell’s Tony speech. Glue it to your sticking place.
“I would love for this little prize to be a token for every person who is wondering ‘Should I be trying to make something that could work on Broadway or that could win me a Tony Award? Or should I be making the weird art that is haunting me? That frightens me, that I don’t know how to make, that I don’t know if anyone in the whole world will understand.’ Please let me standing here be a little sign to you from the universe to make the weird art.”
CORSICANA, by Will Arbery, directed by Sam Gold.
WITH Jamie Brewer, Will Dagger, Deirdre O’Connell, and Harold Surratt
The creative team includes Laura Jellinek (Scenic Designer), Qween Jean (Costume Designer), Isabella Byrd (Lighting Designer), Justin Ellington (Sound Designer), and Joanna Sternberg (Composer).
At Playwrights Horizons, 416 W, 42 Street THOUGH JULY 11, TICKETS