By Holli Harms
We start in silence. We wait. We are patient. The silence is the quiet of the ghosts of the theatre, it is respect for the theatre that was and for what is about to unfold in front of us. We start in silence and then…
Phelim McDermott enters the stage and starts our exquisite journey of story and music, of long-term love of a book, and of artists in collaboration. It is the story both of a show that never happened and the story of the show happening before us. The story of life and creation, of death and mortality. A story of everything and nothing all at once.
McDermott takes us into his obsession with composer Philip Glass, into his love for winter, for Maurice Sendak and his book “In The Night Kitchen.” (A Sendak book I had not heard of and discovered it was banned in many states under the pressure of parents, teachers, and librarians. It’s a beautiful Sendak picture book of a little boy who he is naked throughout the story.)
Images are created in our minds through story as well as presented to our eyes. These images unfold the story of McDermott and his family and his friendship with Glass, who both agree to collaborate on Sendak’s book. A collaboration that never happens.
It is a story of the power of meditation and acceptance and an artistic impulse to create as McDermott started this journey with a dream he had and allowed it to carry him and in turn, it now carries us as well.
The set, musicians, and puppeteers are assembled together to serve McDermott’s narrative which is a study of Taoism and the realm of 10,000 things.
“The philosophy of Taoism, like most forms of mysticism, is a system of truth held together by puzzles and contradictions. Who feels it knows it.” That is the Tao of Glass, a collection of stories assembled like puzzle pieces that fit together seamlessly and in the end open us to a world of dreams, of starting over and moving forward even when there seems to be no forward to move forward to.
All of this is told with stunning sets and the magic and mysticism of puppets. Many of the puppet creations happen before the audience’s eyes creating characters from paper. What can be created with paper and the human imagination!? Beautiful magical images are what. McDermott is a sprite fairy, with Einstein-like hair, exuding charm, humor, and an affable disposition akin to your favorite family uncle, friend, or neighbor. He takes his time to unfold all that needs to be unfolded in this magical tale, a world of mystic stories, and in those fluid stories, “I can be you and you me…unbroken wholeness… deep levels of existence. The way of following life and nature as it is.”
The music is all original Philip Glass compositions created specifically for this production. It is pure Glass beauty lending itself to the movement of the stage, performers, and set pieces unfolding and then folding again in on themselves. Breathtaking.
At intermission, a woman behind me exclaimed, “I’m so glad I’m here.” We all felt the same. So glad so very glad.
NYU Skirball will present the NYC premiere of Tao of Glass, a semi-autobiographical play written and performed by Phelim McDermott with music by Philip Glass
With: Phelim McDermott, Puppeteers David Emmings, Avye Leventis, Puppeteer and Puppet co-ordinator Sarah Wright, Musicians: Percussion Chris Vatalaro, Clarinet Jack McNeill, Violin Laura Lutzke, and Piano Katherine Tinker
Creative Team: Co-Director Kirsty Housley, Remount Director Peter Relton , Lighting Designer Colin Grenfell, Designer Fly Davis, Sound Designer Giles Thomas, Musical Director Chris Vatalaro, Assistant director Jen Tan, Puppet Designer and Maker Lyndie Wright
Tao of Glass is co-presented with the U.K.’s Improbable Theatre Company and the Manchester International Festival.
Tao of Glass will play March 30 & 31; April 1, 5, 6, 7, 8 at 7:30 pm, with matinees on April 1, 2, and 8 at 3 pm.
Tickets are $75 and can be purchased online HERE, at the box office in person, Wednesday – Friday from 12 pm – 6 pm, or by calling 212.998.4941.
NYU Skirball is located at 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square, New York, New York 10012.
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with intermission