In a Word: Slow Down, Settle Down Son
When a child goes missing, there are no words that can describe the pain and the guilt that ricochets through a family. The words that are said, never can match up to the reality of the shame and complexities. What a person can say is never fulfilling, helpful, or exact. Usually they are tried and true statements of care and support, that over time have come to feel flat and meaningless. With In A Word, playwright, Lauren Yee has grabbed hold of this framework and created a compelling take on that exact devastating conflict by pausing and playing with the words around this heaviness. Taking dialogue and interaction across past, present, and future, and messing up and repeating phrases of compassion to absurdist levels, the unspeakable pain gets addressed. The latest production from Lesser America, In a Word is a compelling and emotional idea wrought with an alienating risk but also impenetrable connection. Yee succeeds, on both counts. Pushing us aside unintentionally at moments of overreaching complexity, but also grabbing our hearts quite purposefully.
I only wish director, Tyne Rafaeli, was half as brave, allowing the phenomenal trio of actors to slow down and play a bit more in the abstract dimension Yee has placed them in. They and the play seem to have been dropped onto a treadmill that is running at full speed, so all that intricate and detailed word-play zooms by so fast it’s hard to take in the relevance each idiom has. And there are some really fascinating turns of phrase that shed light on this complicated mother/son relationship, his disappearance, and the horrific experience of loss. They just seem to fly by so fast and furious, that many remarks run past without a chance to stick.
But the actors seem game to this (questionable) directing choice. Laura Ramadei (Fault Line Theatre’s The Oregon Trail) as the mother, Fiona and José Joaquín Perez (Black Lab’s Crude) as the father, Guy, dig deep trying to hold the piece intact. As a couple, they are struggling to connect 2 years after an event that caused their son to vanish. She seems lost in a misty word play of spinning emotions and responses that don’t all add up. Guy is confused by Fiona’s rebounding and retreating back into a time that seems like a fantasy. Their son was not the son she first attempts to describe. It turns out he was a difficult one; not the picture of the ‘good’ child the newspapers like to talk about. Bouncing around them, playing numerous roles is the incredible Justin Mark (Netflix’s ‘Coin Heist’). He’s the man in the grocery store who confesses, the detective that can’t solve the disappearance, Fiona’s boss at work, but most importantly, he miraculously inhabits the role of the lost son. In that part, we slowly become aware of the trouble that existed and the trouble that is attached to his disappearance. It was a shitty day Fiona experienced on more levels then one.
Is there more to the story than the one Fiona likes to tell? Guy wants to know, and over a period of one night on the two year anniversary of the disappearance, he tries to get the story out of Fiona. Utilizing a well crafted living room environment (scenic and lighting design: Iona Curley; sound design: Stowe Nelson; costume design: Andrea Hood) that consistently gives us deeper and heavy imagery, the attempt for clarity spirals out and around the couple over time, verbiage, and place. A level of mystery to an already compelling construct is added, and in some ways Guy’s desire for resolution messes up the arrangement, and falsifies the reality. Does Guy want to let this tragedy fade or rise up? In a Word, I’m not sure. The story and the abstractionism is thoroughly engaging enough as is, so let’s all slow down, take a breath, and trust that the confessional will do the trick and fill us up completely.