By Nicole Itkin
Is sacrificing your family for the greater good justified? How about if different parties disagree on the need for such a sacrifice? How do you proceed?
Adam Kraar’s new play Don’t Look Back directed by Wayne Maugans raises these questions through the eyes of a family that’s distant and warm in equal measure. The family dynamics are portrayed beautifully: quick to comfort but also to scold.
The play opens with a fairly empty set: a brown blanket, blocks on top, actors leaning against them. It’s open, warm, and invokes a sense of curiosity. Overhead, a loudspeaker plays, rhythmically interjecting non-intelligible words.
As the lights dim and the family of four runs on stage, we’re immediately drawn into the grips of the family dynamic. Lot (Jeff Rubino) is the family patriarch, taking charge though not with the ease he thinks he deserves. Edith ( Cynthia Bastidas) is the disgruntled wife, reluctantly following Lot’s lead. Annie ( Masha King) is the teenage daughter, seeking approval while rebelling and pushing it away. Molly (Lina Silver) is the little one, trying to be happy, clutching her stuffed animal as she crosses treacherous terrain. They all portray their circumstances with ease while slowly building up the complexity of their relationships and personalities.
The story is biblical in nature but made modern by giving the daughters names and the wife a voice. The story: Lot’s decision to shelter two angels puts his family at risk. When tensions escalate, there seems to be no choice but to flee. They flee the city of Sodom to get to the city of Zoar, crossing a mountain in a dangerous and long journey.
The family members take on the difficulty of the journey physically. Their movements slow over time, their backs hunch over, their use of suitcases changes from refined to sloppy to desperate. While the choreography is entrancing throughout the play, there’s a sense of harmony that seems unrealistic. The steps are all in lockstep; de-synchronization might have added visual depth to the family dynamics.
The play, at its heart, is circumstantial but also applicable across time. It plays on family dynamics, on age, and perspective. In making the move to another city, to the unknown, there’s the question of whether they’re actually moving to something better or just moving from one evil to another. In this question of movement and change comes a reference to the immigrant struggle. And to the question of whether they’re letting fear push them from their homes or letting caution take them to a better place.
While all of the actors portray strong and clear characters, it takes a while for Edith to find her footing. She seems to struggle in the early scenes. However, once she establishes a clear love for her children, an overwhelming need to protect them, and a need to create her own life, she comes into her own.
Edith declares: “My name is Edith not wife!” With that, she carves out her own place for herself. From there, she acts with wonderful strength and dynamism.
Still, as written, Edith’s character is somewhat unlikeable. There is a difference between demonstrating that women are backed into a corner and showing that the corner is where women should be. The play, unfortunately, seems to suggest the latter. If women scream, the play suggests, they’re aggressive and need to be punished. If they’re quiet and follow along, they’re complacent and set a bad example for their daughters.
Ultimately, when asking why this play, why now, I’m left searching for an answer.
With: Cynthia Bastidas, Masha King, Jeff Rubino, Lina Silver, Kathleen Salazar and Nick Westemeyer.
Creative Team: Producers are Michael Ngo and Charles C. Bales. Associate Producer is Tessa Flannery. Set design is by David Esler, costumes are by Peri Grabin Leong, lighting design is by Paul Bartlett, sound design is by Fan Zhang, projections are by Tuânminh A Đỗ. Assistant Director is Sarah Good. Production Stage Manager is Keri Landeiro.* Assistant Stage Manager is Lameesa Dhanani.
The production will run from Friday, June 10th to Thursday, June 30th on the mainstage at HERE, 145 6th Avenue (enter on Dominick, 1 block south of Spring). http://voyagetheatercompany.org/current-season/
**In addition to showing proof of full vaccination status and a picture ID: All patrons will also be required to wear masks (KN95 or KF94 masks are strongly recommended).
Guest Reviewer Bio: “Nicole Itkin is a member of the Stuyvesant High School class of 2022 and Amherst College class of 2026.” She is an avid actor, reader, and writer. She is a director for the Stuyvesant Theater Community, a writer for the Features Department of The Stuyvesant Spectator, and an editor for Polyphony Lit. In her spare time, she loves taking walks, listening to podcasts, and finding new notebooks.