By Kendra Jones
“What you need to know, you’ll come to know.”
We’re on an island, in a town hall or a community center—a small-town where everyone knows of each other, but yet they don’t actually know each other.
Deep Blue Sound, by Abe Koogler, opens with characters funneling onto stage, greeting or ignoring each other, taking seats, chattering. Someone blows their nose. They get situated; we get situated. They’re aware of the audience; they announce their characters. They tell us who they play; in addition, they all play a secondary character.
I find myself scrambling, panicking even to remember names. They warn us not to try keeping track. I’m relieved. I don’t think about their names for the rest of the performance. To me, they become universal characters: “the old, dying woman,” “the dying woman’s daughter from Brooklyn,” “the old man, the dying one’s friend,” “the mother who’s separated from her husband,” “the husband who wants his wife back,” “the mayor.”
They all find themselves returning to the island or inhabiting after several decades for different reasons.
They all fear this silence—whether it’s through death, loneliness, searching aimlessly, grappling, desperately grasping at what’s left.
Ella (Maryann Plunkett), the old, dying woman, is searching for peace…peace within herself, peace with herself. Ella is the center—I mean, she is the one dying.
She’s having an assisted death. The thought of that makes me anxious and nervous: imagining those months, weeks, days, hours leading up to a certain death. The waiting. Asking yourself if you are utilizing each moment appropriately, if you are using your time left on earth enough. As time diminishes, Ella’s physical pain becomes visible, and her nerves escalate.Ella hires Joy (Natsuko Ohama), the editor of the paper, to write an obituary for her—rather than someone who already knows her, like her daughter Ali.
Ali, (Brittany K. Allen) is searching for home, she doesn’t want it to be on the island, with her mother. She’s waiting for her mother to die. She’s worried and caring, but she is ready. She decides the island is not where she wants to stay for longer than her mother has left.
John (Thomas Jay Ryan), the dying-one’s friend, is lonely. He doesn’t yet know Ella is dying. He searches for attention, opportunities to care for someone. He calls an ex-boyfriend. He brings bushels and bushels and bouquets of flowers to Ella’s deathbed. He invites Gary (Bruce McKenzie), an assumedly homeless islander, for dinner.
They’re all searching for something.
But they will all find some level of peace.
Mary (Tala Ashe) wants to move on, move on from husband Chris.
Chris (Armando Riesco) is searching for reconciliation.
Leslie (Jan Leslie Harding) is the horse lady searching for a connection beyond the countless hours she spends with her equine. She wants a relationship with someone, communication, someone with to share interest and time. She’s desperate to piece together any potential relation. Leslie grasps at these men she’s met online. She’s lonely.
The search for whales is hidden in the background, it’s the driving force that forces these characters to reconvene.
Dialogue overlaps, coalescing as each character begins, continues, finishes their thoughts.
Mayor Annie, (Crystal Finn) is searching for fulfillment, honor, recognition. She wants to be the mayor that found the whales again.
Mo is a local mom, and that’s all we know about Mo.
I don’t care that I didn’t remember that Mo (also played by Crystal Finn) was separate from the mayor. Every time Mo and her young son, Alexander (a secondary character played by Armando Riesco), exchanged their lines, the audience reacted.
We see Mo through Alexander, her young son who loves dancing. He just wants to be good. He wants to be good enough. He wants Mo’s approval; he wants her to see his hard work. Mo finally sees it. It takes the whole play, where she doesn’t give consideration towards his passion for dancing, his youth and hopefulness. We never see him, but we hear his breaths, the padding of his feet against floor as he exerts his energy into these little performances for his mother. “Awe’s” sound around me, empathy for this child growing with each practice for his mom.
And Gary is assumedly homeless. He seemingly earns money from doing yard work; he chops wood for John. He won’t admit to being homeless. He assures he has a home, but we know it may not be a physical shelter. Like the whales, he is a source of speculation. Fittingly, Gary also plays a whale.
In a moment, over ten primary and secondary characters merge into one.
“And all of a sudden
I was overcome with a feeling I could not describe
And it was so overwhelming
That I couldn’t help it.”
Mary invites her husband in for dinner,
Something happens to Ella,
Mo is overcome with emotion as Alexander finishes his dance,
The whale leaps into the air.
We envision him: “emerging…rising…cresting….falling.”
We experience this harmony.
Written by Abe Koogler; Directed by Arin Arbus.
WITH: Maryann Plunkett (Ella), Thomas Jay Ryan (John), Tala Ashe (Mary), Armando Riesco (Chris), Natsuko Ohama (Joy), Brittany K. Allen (Ali), Crystal Finn (Annie), Jan Leslie Harding (Leslie) and Bruce MacKenzie (Gary).
Deep Blue Sound will run until June 15, 2023 at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd Street).
Tony Award-nominated and five-time Obie Award-winning theater company Clubbed Thumb (Maria Striar, Producing Artistic Director; Michael Bulger, Associate Artistic Director) is proud to present the complete line-up for the 26th SUMMERWORKS festival of new plays. SUMMERWORKS is running May 18 – July 1, 2023 at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd Street) and features productions of three new plays.