Photo by Gerry Goodstein

by Holli Harms

Our beautiful messed-up desire to reach out and connect, to be seen and not seen, to matter in the presence of someone you love, to connect through stories, karaoke, food, drink, and bullshit, with the hope that it means something profoundly deep, so deep no one is aware. When we retrospect, we glam on to these singular minutes, these small cracks in our lives that open up between moments, compounding and having a substantial effect on a person’s life even if those moments on the surface are only shooting shots of alcohol and shrieking out songs.

We all want to be seen, to be recognized in the presence of our fellow humans, and to matter. To feel that others are thinking, “I’m glad you’re in my life.” To be appreciated for who we are makes life worth living.

Denis Johnson peoples his play Des Moines with those we know because we are them.

It is almost Christmas and the decorations and tree are up in the small flat of Dan (Arliss Howard) and Marta (Johanna Day). Dan is trying to tell Marta about a visit he had with a woman, Mrs. Drinkwater (Heather Alicia Simms) whose husband was killed in an airplane crash. Dan was one of the last people to see her husband alive as he, a cab driver, was the one to drive him to the airport, and she wants to know what her husband said. What were his last words? Mrs. Drinkwater is trying in any way possible to find the husband she lost. How is it possible that he was there one minute and forever gone the next? She kissed him goodbye not realizing she would never kiss or see him again. Dan and Marta’s granddaughter, Jimmy (Hari Nef) resides with them in the small flat. Jimmy recently had a sex change procedure, an operation which has left her in a wheelchair. Jimmy is making the best of it with makeup and karaoke. Uncle Michael (Michael Shannon) another family member and priest lives nearby and drops in for company, for talk, for a place where he can just be Michael, Mike.

The kitchen is the room where most of our lives play out, where we story-tell our way through our days. The play is set in such a kitchen, the kitchen of Marta’s and Dan’s home. Here on this day, all of these individuals will converge to celebrate and decorate and rage against the atrocities of life. Secrets will be told and fears exposed and all done through Johnson’s language of the commonplace, a language of sadness made extraordinary by repetition and surprise, by proselytizing and lying. It is subtext with no explanation in the text. His characters create truths that they then debunk, only to create more lies laid out as truths. One family’s story is every family’s story.

The actors are shooting stars. They are comets crisscrossing the stage, tearing it up, and throwing light on one another and the audience. Under Arin Arbus’ guidance, those stars align again and again to create another kind of star system, a play you will not forget for some time.

Theatre For A New Audience presents Des Moines written by DENIS JOHNSON, and directed by ARIN ARBUS


Creative Team: Scenic Designer RICCARDO HERNÁNDEZ, Choreographer BYRON EASLEY
Costume Designer QWEEN JEAN, Voice Director ANDREW WADE, Lighting Designer SCOTT ZIELINSKI, Dramaturg JONATHAN KALB, Original Music and Sound Design MIKAAL SULAIMAN, Fight DirectorJ. DAVID BRIMMER, Costume Crafts HOCHI ASIATICO, Production Stage Manager SHANE SCHNETZLER

Theatre For A New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center
262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, NY, 11217

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, with no intermission.

TICKETS HERE: Performances EXTENDED through January 8 2023

Masks are required.

Presented in association with Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia, and Evenstar Film.