ReviewStage

“Absence” is Unforgettable

David Kane ‘15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Joanna Merlin and Anne Gottlieb in the Boston Playwrights' Theatre's Absence. Photo Credit: Kalman Zabarsky.
Joanna Merlin and Anne Gottlieb in the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre’s Absence. Photo Credit: Kalman Zabarsky.

Peter M. Floyd’s thesis play as an MFA playwriting student at Boston University tells the story of 76-year-old Helen, whose encroaching dementia threatens her control over her life and her family. The play is as heart wrenching as its synopsis might suggest, and its cast brings wonderful emotional force.

Kippy Goldfarb takes center stage as Helen, her range exercised in her lashing out during the stages of her mental collapse. The narrative continues from Helen’s perspective as she journeys through the stages, tragically losing touch with her family and grip on reality.

Goldfarb was originally the understudy for the role of Helen behind Joanna Merlin, but this weekend she took over with impressive force. She opens the play with a monologue about her favorite memory; the story she tells is rich in detail, inviting the audience members to reminisce about their childhoods. Goldfarb presents a woman deeply attached to her memories, setting up the eventual heartbreak of losing them. Her warm side accompanies a clipping personality who openly expresses her disappointment in her loved ones, thus alienating them when she needs them most. The audience yearns to see her reconnect with them, but mourns them as they fall through the cracks of Helen’s worsening memory.

One of the most important relationships Helen has is with her middle-aged daughter Barb, played here by Anne Gottlieb. Barb has learned to be hardheaded, having grown up under Helen’s tyrannical snipping, which lends to complicated treatment of her now ailing mother. Gottlieb does a fantastic job expressing Barb’s unending frustration, even stretching the bounds of language in one deeply emotional scene that demonstrates Helen’s deteriorating perception.

Beverly Diaz and Anne Gottlieb in the Boston Playwrights' Theatre's Absence. Photo Credit: Kalman Zabarsky.
Beverly Diaz and Anne Gottlieb in the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre’s Absence. Photo Credit: Kalman Zabarsky.

The staging of this particular performance included brilliant visual elements introduced by director Megan Schy Gleeson. At the start, the stage is littered with cardboard boxes of varying sizes, as though the characters are getting ready to move out. These boxes transform into props throughout, until one by one the characters carry them away, their absence reflecting Helen’s state of mind by the end. This is done so subtly that, like Helen and her memories, the audience is surprised to find the items have vanished while they weren’t looking.

Peter M. Floyd offers a thoroughly realistic depiction of the harrowing effects of dementia on one’s mind and family. This play offers an honest portrayal of everyday tragedy understood all too well by thousands of families. Absence is being shown at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre from Feb 6 – March 2, 2014. It is well worth the ticket.

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