Laurie Anderson Surveys the Wreckage

LAURIE ANDERSON in her Studio in New York, USA.

Laurie Anderson in her Studio in New York.
Her performance of DIRTDAY! was presented by Cal Performances.

Photo: Lucie Jansch

Laurie Anderson, now 63 years old, brought her violin, allied musical accoutrements and minimalist set pieces to Berkeley’s Zellerbach Auditorium on September 18, where out of the contradictions manifest in scientific investigation, Tibetan cult mysteries, and lessons she has learned from a dog’s life, she spun a web of comedic intrigue.

Appearing in a loose-fitting white shirt and tie, black slacks and white shoes, and sporting a scruffy do that was its own hybrid—punk plus low maintenance—she, herself, especially when she tucks her violin into the crook of her neck as if it were her heart—evokes something sculptural and pleasantly exotic. She is Electronica Untamed and also Electronica Informed—by a classical education in music, philosophy and science.

The porridge-like sounds that result from the mix of her violin and the Tide music program she supplements it with, eventually refine themselves into a clean and nearly virtuosic blend. Scattered around her are cupcake-sized floor lights. They soften the space and distract the eye from the tech clutter Anderson manipulates to bring her show to its climax.

A quote from Darwin is her opening gambit: “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!” Twisting Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory, she says that maybe he really meant survival of the strongest, flirting with a trope of Social Darwinism that the evolutionary theorist did not intend as the takeaway from his arduous research. But according to Anderson, there was the peacock, and even if the peacock wasn’t the fittest, he was indeed the finest, and so became the man of the evolutionary hour, thumbing his tail at all that Darwin stood for. She moves from this apostasy to muse about other narcissistic outcroppings staring up at us from the underside of the Universe. Here’s one: What if Earth is not the only planet possessing a population and culture? And why do we insist on calling it Earth, anyway, when it is mostly dirt? Why not Planet Dirt? The way Anderson sees it, it has become more of a battleground than a playground—why not call it by the lowly name it has earned? And on it goes, examining the Talmudic-like loopholes that have Israelis raising pigs on wooden platforms because it is not kosher to raise them on Israeli soil.

She returns to the USA and its recent passage of the U.S. Defense Authorization Act, which allows for indefinite detention of U.S. citizens deemed terrorists or terrorist threats by the government or military. She cites Paul Revere and his cry, “The British are coming!” Didn’t mostly everyone responding to the cry view themselves as British to begin with? So who exactly was it that was coming? She sidesteps the class implications of the first American Revolution. It was the British monarchy coming in the form of its proxy mercenaries to beat back the bourgeois revolution of now-American colonialists. That’s who it was! Instead of making clear the relationship of forces at work, she quips, “Ever since then, ‘we’ have been waiting for an enemy to show up, and if none did, it seems that ‘we’ are predisposed to manufacture one. Maybe the enemy is ourselves.” she proposes, luxuriating in the homo-seditionist overtones of her observation, but again confabulating those who rule with those who are ruled, a common confusion, not to mention one of many annoying obstacles to the advancement of class consciousness.

Anderson’s discourse turns to memories, dreams and their “tangled interpretations.” This fantastic voyage leads to Wall Street and its commoditization of everything, even things that don’t exist. “They buy and sell futures,” she says incredulously, “things they predict will some day come about but don’t exist now.” The capitalists’ dreams are so outsized that she is put in mind of SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome], where one theory says that babies dream of their past life in the womb where they didn’t breathe, and in some uber-Stanislovsky commitment to realism, simply stop breathing and die. The idea that we are asleep half of our lives and that she has therefore been asleep for 21 years, terrifies her. Continuing in the vein of tangled interpretations, Anderson says of the elections, “The best story gets our vote, whether it is true or not. We are going to go for the biggest, bushiest and most colorful tale.”

That the earth’s centrifugal force doesn’t send us flying off of it fascinates Anderson. “It spins around in space as if it’s trying to get rid of us. The good news,” she says, as if she is sharing an epiphany, “is that we have so many regrets that we have [plenty of material for] country music.” According to Anderson, everyone ends up with the wrong person, and that is what makes the juke box spin.”

LAURIE ANDERSON in her Studio in New York, USA

Photo: Lucie Jansch

There is a sequence about her now-deceased dog Lula Belle that is unabashedly calculated to snag those who participate in the high profile Cult of the Dog that we see practiced widely in the San Francisco Bay Area, side by side with those who embrace the homilies of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Her dog took piano lessons, and she screens video of Lula Belle’s interpretations. She lampoons some of the Tibetan beliefs, at the same time seeming to endorse them in spite of her earlier salute to science. She clearly relishes feasting at the banquet of her own contradictions, and thereby distancing any audience member who is so presumptuous as to claim her for his or her camp.

Her finale has us, on the one hand, viewing New York from above, as a world of “glass and light.” On the other hand, she relates the story of her visit to a tent city in the woods of Lakewood, New Jersey. It is a Junkman’s Obbligato of the real state of the union, not to mention the real estate of the union, a place where The Now is also the future, tendered by homeless women who make little birdhouse tent city souvenirs out of scraps of wood to sell to women from neighboring towns who live in actual homes.

The full-house audience at Zellerbach roars its approval, and she honors them with a haunting violin solo that (almost) rights the Planet Dirt back on its axis as we exit.

Upcoming Season at the National Theatre, London: Sept. ‘12 – Feb. ‘13

Poster: John Lithgow in The Magistrate

John Lithgow will star in The Magistrate by Arthur Wing Pinero.
Illustration © Gerald Scarfe

The upcoming season at the National Theatre has a certain amount of “the mixture as before” in it. But it’s a pretty tasty mixture, and blended together right nice. From a rich and varied programme, a few particularly stand out. First off, Alan Bennett has written another play for them. People seems to be about an attic sale in a decaying stately home, which is enough to get any Bennett fan salivating. One of the most immediately attractive things about his last for the National, The Habit of Art, was the wild proliferation of stuff. He must be a joy to design for – last time the lodgings of W.H. Auden in his old Oxford college, and this time a mouldering pile somewhere in the heart of the British countryside. The poster has a sofa, empty portrait frames and open drawers – you can see the point being made about the absence of people, but there’s also a slight hint of Holbein’s The Ambassadors, that carefully composed jumble whose precise meaning scholars are still arguing over. And a mouldering country house promises plenty of Bennett exploring Britishness (whatever that is) in run-down institutions, via the line which runs through The History Boys all the way back to Forty Years On. The dialogue quoted in the advert has his customary bite:

– How’re you doing?
– Not sure
– Well, why don’t you get on the mobile to your dick and find out?

Speaking of Forty Years On, Bennett is also collaborating with George Fenton (who wrote the music for that early and excoriating vision of a tatty English school) on a short piece called Hymn: a memoir of music in childhood. A quick thirty minutes of music and musing, it’ll probably be worth a look, and is paired as a double bill with Cocktail Sticks “an oratorio without music that revisits some of the themes and conversations of Alan Bennett’s memoir”. Personally I tend to edge away from Bennett in autobiographical mood, on the stage at least – it doesn’t leave him enough room to say much more than how things were in one particular case. He says that accurately and even hauntingly, but it’s too cosy and slips too easily into Alan the National Treasure, unthreatening and nicely wistful. This piece is apparently only based on the memoir, and has fictional characters, but I’ll take even odds that it won’t have the grim reversals which made Talking Heads more than a set of character studies of good honest folk oop North.

The Effect is another appetising prospect. It’s a Lucy Prebble play described as “a clinical romance” which “explores questions of sanity, neurology and the limits of medicine”, and is directed by Rupert Goold, who staged Earthquakes in London at the National earlier in the year. I didn’t manage to see ENRON by Prebble, but heard from a friend that it managed a very difficult feat, staging details of the financial crisis without making it preachy, explainy or A Personal Human Drama. (It involved lots of shiny boxes and a light sabre fight with fluorescent lights, from the excited account I received.) If anyone can get neurology and medicine up on a stage alongside a love story, giving both equal weight, it may well be Lucy Prebble.

Arthur Wing Pinero is another British talent getting a lot of attention at the moment, though sadly he is somewhat too dead to enjoy it. He lived from the 1850s to the 1930s, and seems to be having a bit of a revival at the moment. His farce Dandy Dick is currently on tour, his nostalgic piece about the Victorian theatre Trelawny of the Wells is opening at the Donmar next season, and his “problem play” about the treatment of women The Second Mrs. Tanqueray is about to open at The Rose in Kingston. The National are adding to the wave with a version of another farce, The Magistrate. The Rose’s publicity material calls Pinero “more probing than Oscar Wilde and more accessible than Ibsen”, which frankly makes everyone involved in the comparison come off looking slightly shoddy. He is striking, though, as a figure of who links the self-consciously radical upstarts of the 1890s New Theatre (George Bernard Shaw and his cronies) with the unashamedly entertaining mid-century comedians like Dion Boucicault (whose London Assurance was a success at the National and on tour last year.) Trelawny of the Wells, whose name refers to the old-fashioned playhouse Sadler’s Wells, is partly a myth of origin for the modern theatre, in which a young actress (in love with a man of good family) finds herself trapped between being too lively for “society” but too refined for the Wells and its company. The invention of more realistic drama and her marriage to said young man cement the dawning of a new era in the British theatre, whilst looking back fondly at the old days of the Wells.

This is more than an interesting fact of theatre history because the National Theatre is itself the product of this period. It wasn’t actually founded until 1963, but all through the late nineteenth century the progressive strand of British theatre involved calls for a National Theatre to be founded, to nurture non-commercial work which could do more for the country than simply entertain it with comic stereotypes, dancing girls and sensational murders. Those in favour of a National Theatre were often leftists, sometimes feminists, often attracted by gritty realistic drama about social problems, and might well also be interested in staging Shakespeare in an “authentic” manner. High-minded, arty types with a burning belief that Art had a Mission. In other words, the National Theatre was a project espoused by those who thought Boucicault’s work was ruining British culture, and who would probably have regarded Pinero’s as little better. Though his most famous play, The Second Mrs. Tanqueray grazes social critique, it’s basically an exemplary tale about the ghastly fate which awaits a “fallen woman”. Certainly the plot of The Magistrate – with its young man-about-town whom everyone thinks is fourteen years old, a stepfather out on a secret binge and police chasing in and out of a hotel – is unlikely to set an audience pondering social problems.

Historical ironies aside, the appearance of the likes of Pinero and Boucicault at the National is rather cheering. It suggests that we’re rediscovering a part of theatrical history, from the mid and late nineteenth century, which has too often been banished, or only offered as the murky background against which Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw reacted. The Victorians have much more to offer us than their high-minded avant-garde and if the National itself can embrace the exuberant and occasionally inane products of the Victorian commercial theatre, we’re likely to get a rounder and livelier vision of our theatrical past.

Is there life after Fringe? Four shows that deserve longer runs.

Where a production goes after a run at The New York International Fringe Festival depends on many variables. Already 19 entries have been selected for the Fringe Encore series in September (two of which, Pulp Shakespeare and Pieces, were reviewed here). For details see Beyond that, only time will tell which shows will garner the luck, timing, financial backing and connections necessary transfer to a major venue. In the meantime we Fringe attendees enjoy compiling our personal wish lists. Here, in addition to the shows praised in previous columns, is a critic’s lineup of productions that show promise.

The Importance of Doing Art
Written by Susannah Dalton
Directed by Jose Ignacio Vivero

The Importance of Doing Art

Tom Morf and Nick O’Neil in The Importance of Doing Art.
Photo by Angela Cardenas

Susannah Dalton’s satirical romp is endearing, sexy, and spot-on about art world pretension. Regular guy Jack (Tom Morf) notices that there is one type of male that always seems to have women eating out of his hand, despite a lack of looks or money. Who are these mysterious sexual sorcerers? Artists, of course! Roping his reluctant friend Sam (Nick O’Neil) into the ruse, Jack poses as a rising aesthete. Sure enough, intellectual posturing turns out to be catnip to photographer Rita (Sarah Hendricks) and artist’s representative Vanisha (Dalton), and soon the guys are having more sex than they can handle. The scheme threatens to backfire, though, when the fellows realize they might one day have show this mysterious “art project” they claim to be working on. Of course the women aren’t who they say they are either, and as gallery bigwigs get involved, bluffs are called, loyalties tested, and art – yet again – redefined. Jose Ignacio Vivero draws effervescent performances from a likeable cast, and bolsters the comedy with visual wit. Importance isn’t quite as tight as it needs to be, and its comic momentum stalls in a few spots. But with a bit of fine tuning, this timely farce could go places.

Dark Hollow
Written by Georg Buchner
Adapted by Elizabeth Chaney
Directed by Alkis Papoutsis

Dark Hollow

Kevin Kash as Woyzeck and David Dakota Sanchez as the Drum Major in Dark Hollow.
Photo:Louis Chan

Ahead of its time, Georg Buchner’s 19th Century murder ballad gained popularity as the archetype of the Sympathetic Monster became a mainstay of modern storytelling. Here, the harrowing tale of a guileless soldier driven mad by social injustices and personal betrayals is reset in rural 1930’s America. Director Alkis Papoutsis is a master logician, and nimbly orchestrates the 17- member cast, complex cues and period props without a single glitch. His narrative choices, however, are sometimes puzzling. Some scenes are delivered in a heightened, theatrical style, bordering on caricature. Others beats are handled with stark realism, which is far more effective in provoking both empathy and goosebumps in the audience. Still, Dark Hollow’s inconsistencies are outweighed by its strengths, which include strong performances, a superb live bluegrass band, and adapter Elizabeth Chaney’s sensitive ear for the poetry of regional speech.

After the Circuit
Written by Josh Billig
Directed by Matthew Singletary

Scene from After the Circuit.
Photo: Jonathon Musser

The Great Depression also provides the backdrop for Josh Billig’s well-made dramedy about a struggling family of entertainers. Once part of a promising vaudeville comedy team, Theo Segal (Sam Hicks), finds himself unable to get his career back on track. His twin brother and comedy partner Alex, has recently died of a drug overdose, and without him Theo’s just no good. Neither is Alex’s widow Betsy (Kay Capasso) a former chorus girl who shares a cramped tenement with Theo and his brambly wife Sarah (Sarah Sirota). Tension runs high in this hardscrabble household, not least because a recent miscarriage has left Sarah depressed and angry. Despite Theo’s objections she walks out, not sure when, or if, she’ll be back. Left to their own devices, Theo and Betsy bicker incessantly—until they hit on an ingenious scheme. Blending laughs with sex appeal, the two hit the circuit with a sensational new act that promises to turn their fortunes around. Even success proves troubling though, as the duo’s budding chemistry threatens to derail any hopes Sarah has of resurrecting the marriage. Pressed into maturity, Theo finds he’ll need more than just a sense of humor to straighten this situation out. Under Matthew Singletary’s confident direction, a committed ensemble embodies the wit, ingenuity and weary courage that carried a troubled generation forward through tough times.

Hanafuda Denki
Written by Shuji Terayama
Music by Makoto Honda
Directed by Saori Aoki

Hanafuda Denki

Scene from Hanafuda Denki.

Like its eponymous playing cards, this opulent production (winner of a Fringe 2012 Overall Excellence Award for design) offers a banquet of colorful imagery to accompany its phantasmagorical story. Presiding over a Tokyo funeral parlor, deceased Danjuro (Kazuhiko Satomi), treats death like a game show. Instead of prizes, moribund contestants gamble to win the demise that best suits them. Of course, Danjuro wins every time: his ghostly village grows with each new arrival. But he’s not so skillful at controlling his rebellious daughter Karuta (Kanami Sakai) who has fallen in love – gasp! – with a living boy. This is a big taboo in netherworld culture. And to make matters worse, Karuta’s boyfriend Kitaro (cross-dressed Hiroko Ito), is known on the streets as a master thief. Danjuro and his wife (cross-dressed and heavily bearded IWAO) try to marry Karuta off to an eligible dead guy. Undaunted, Kitaro plots to penetrate the world of the dead, sabotage the wedding and steal Karuta’s heart. Has the wily Danjuro finally met his match? Let the games begin! Having toured since 2011, this engagingly ghoulish musical is among the most polished of the year’s entries. Whether Ryuzanji Company will enjoy an extended stay in the West is not yet known, but residents of British Columbia will have a chance to see Hanafuda Denki at the upcoming Vancouver and Victoria Fringe Festivals. See these websites for details:

ERRATA: Reader feedback has informed me that the names of two participants were misspelled in my recent review of In the Ebb. Apologies to actor Stewart Steinberg and sound designer Ien DeNio. Corrections have been made.

Theatre Review: Three Men In A Boat, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, England

Three Men in a Boat poster

There were four of us – George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were – bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.

So begins one of the most famous comic novels in English. Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat is up there with The Pickwick Papers and Tristram Shandy for influence if not for style, and is much more frequently read than either of them. The decision of those three young men (and the dog) to cure their imaginary maladies by rowing up and down the Thames launches a series of misadventures including the time Harris fought an army of swans, the contretemps with the maze at Hampton Court and the regrettable incident with the defiant tin of pineapple. At the time it was either hailed or condemned as part of a new wave of writing by the “clerks”, smart young men whose education and interests were decidedly middle-class, though in retrospect it can look like the last flowering of the late nineteenth century, glad to be done with its strictures but yearning to believe in its idealism.

The novel has also launched a wave of adaptations over the years. Two amongst the handful I’ve enjoyed stick in the mind: Tom Stoppard’s TV version which used the three young men’s trip to illustrate the final drowsy peace of Edwardian England before the horror and dislocation of 1914. Mucking about in English history, enamoured and mischievous at the same time, there’s more than a hint in Stoppard’s Three Men In A Boat of his later plays like Arcadia and The Invention of Love (the latter actually weaves Jerome and his companions into the life and death of the poet A.E. Housman). Rodney Bewes’ one-man show of the novel won him the Stella Artois prize at Edinburgh, and I saw it as a fourteen year-old, enchanted by the show and by the sight of Bewes holding court in the bar afterwards, still in his boating blazer with a pewter tankard of beer in his hand. He brought more of the blokeish feel of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads to the show: less of the last long doomed summer and more of the lads’ weekend away1. Both tapped into different aspects of a book which seems to welcome adaptation, possibly because it’s such a mish-mash of jumbled-up elements. Or possibly because it’s a sort of adaptation of itself, having been intended as a guide to boating on the Thames which was overbalanced (I won’t say capsized) by the comic passages.

So The Original Theatre Company have an attractive prospect: a favourite old work which has a ready-made audience, but which accommodates adaptation well. Their version is full of terrific ideas, but never quite provides the pay-off. It was a great notion to reframe the story as a speech by J himself at a meeting of a local branch of the Royal Geographical Society in the back room of a pub. This allows Alastair Whatley (as J) to play up the sentimental and historical stuff whilst his companions Christopher Brandon (George) and Tom Hackney (Harris) can nick his cue-cards and throw them into the audience when they get bored. The addition of Nellie the dignified Edwardian pianist (Sue Appleby, who also MDs the show) brings in some music-hall songs and tuneful interludes of an occasionally anachronistic character, such as the Wild West card game.

It’s full of cracking ideas, but it never quite fulfils its promise. The “physical theatre” of the programme largely consists of stamping on each other’s toes, running about the stage and building a boat out of packing cases, umbrellas and the table. Unfortunately the result still looks like a pile of packing cases, umbrellas and the table. The most effective moment of this kind – the train carriage improvised from rocking suitcases back and forward and miming windows – is too obviously similar to the sequence in The 39 Steps, which is still running up in the West End. The plentiful jokes about “the magic of theatre” and the illusion breaking down would have been fine in a show which ran at full-tilt, but they felt a bit apologetic when the first half had failed to really build up a head of steam. Christopher Brandon’s flexible and mock-melancholy countenance – allied with his singing voice – is the best thing in the show, and Tom Hackney plays the thick-headed Harris with some brio. There are laughs to be had, but this feels more like a sketch than a fully-fledged work.


1 Though he has pretty good claim to know whereof he speaks when he speak of messing about on the river, being a member of the London Rowing Club and Freeman of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames.

NYC Fringe Report: Domestic Disturbances

Two dramas feature vibrant
protagonists reexamining their marriages.

June and Nancy
Writer: Michelle Ramoni
Director: Kate Holland
The Kraine Theater
85 East 4th Street New York, NY 10003

In the Ebb
Writer: Camilla Ammirati
Director: Jessica Ammirati
HERE Mainstage Theatre
145 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10012

Given the Festival’s stringent load-in-load-out requirement, it’s no wonder many Fringe participants choose solo shows and improv comedy over traditional forms of drama. Yet every year, a few determined companies attempt the near-impossible, and there are several provocative entries currently on offer in the scripted, multi-character category. Two of the standouts, Michelle Ramoni’s June and Nancy and Camilla Ammirati’s In the Ebb take place in very different times and places, but they share a common theme. Both stories include searching, imaginative female protagonists who struggle to discover themselves as they question the stability of their marriages.

Michelle Ramoni as June

Michelle Ramoni as June in June and Nancy.
©Letizia Mariotti

June and Nancy is set in prosperous post-War Manhattan, and part of the show’s eroticism comes from its stylish retro costumes and jazz soundtrack. The wider world is changing, but June (Michelle Ramoni), and her husband Marty (Jeffrey Coyne) still try to lead a conventional life. He’s the breadwinner, while June keeps house, volunteers at the Museum of Modern Art, and attends dinners with Marty’s clients. The couple has attempted to raise a family, but a series miscarriages have left their parental longings unfulfilled. Similarly, June’s artistic career has yet to bear fruit. After months of preparation, her first gallery show was a complete bust. In the resulting marital malaise, Marty struggles with impotence while June numbs her sadness with alcohol and is often on the brink of tears. Into this fraught situation walks self-possessed lithographer Nancy (Gabrielle Maisels), whose black slacks and sensuously windblown hairdo represent a very different image of womanhood than June is used to. Nancy becomes a frequent visitor to the museum, and the two women move from gazing at paintings to drinking in bars, to falling so profoundly in love they cannot keep their hands off each other. Just as their relationship is blossoming, though, unexpected changes take place that pull June back towards home. Torn between two worlds, she seeks the help of her best friend, Jerry (Peter Daniel Straus) who is himself struggling with the closet. But ultimately June is forced to listen to her own long-stifled inner voice.

Same-sex extramarital affairs have been dramatized before, but Ramoni’s smart dialogue and humanistic embrace of her characters brings a freshness to the genre. There is no stereotyping here, and June’s strained conversations with Marty are as delicately written as her blissful, stolen moments with Nancy. Under Kate Holland’s direction, the actors authentically embody both the socially proscribed exteriors and visceral inner drives of repressed 1950’s Americans. Ramoni, in particular, vibrates with such intense vulnerability that parts of June and Nancy are almost too heartbreaking to endure. Both as a performer and writer, hers is a talent to watch.

Crawford M. Collins as The Waterlogged Woman

Crawford M. Collins plays “The Waterlogged Woman” in The Ebb.

A more modern internal conflict drives the restless souls who populate Camilla Ammirati’s two haunting, imagistic one acts. In St. James in the Field of Stars, Alicia (Leah Gabriel) looks back on her younger self (Crawford M. Collins) as she recalls the vagabond days of her youth. After the traumatic drowning death of her father, Alicia feels the need to escape the confines of her small town and a strained relationship with her mother (Mary Goggin). Wherever she travels, though, she perpetually gravitates to the sea, always choosing locations where the menace and beauty of the ocean is a constant presence. In a coastal town in Scotland, she soaks up the poetry of local speech and song, and bonds with wryly funny Anna (Lisa Crosby Wipperling), and jovial fisherman Iain (Michael Komala). But when a call comes from Joel (Montgomery Sutton), an old friend of Alicia’s, the prospect of a sojourn in Spain becomes extremely tempting. Suspecting (correctly) that her mother is behind this, Alicia nonetheless accepts Joel’s offer. Here, in a world of glittering stars, and cathedral spires, and warm nights by the shore, she is at last ready to open her heart again. Though the ensuing experience is bittersweet, Alicia emerges with a stronger sense of self, ready to begin the new journey that awaits her back home.

Less a sequel than a thematic continuation, The Ebb also features the ocean as a character—this time in a more literal rendition. Emily (Gabriel) seems to have it all: a loving husband (Sutton) a promising career, lovable in-laws (Goggin and Stewart Steinberg) and a house by the beach. And yet she spends her days more terrified than content, especially when a “Waterlogged Woman” (Collins) crawls up from the sea and bedevils her with dark premonitions. Is Emily, like her mother, becoming mentally unglued? Or is she merely exhibiting a healthy fear of intimacy’s undertow – the letting go that love demands of all us? The Ebb moves at a taut pace to its startling, and edifying, conclusion.

Both in the sprawling St. James and the tighter Ebb Ammirati’s language moves fluidly from naturalism to poetic invention. Due to the verbal dexterity of its characters, much of In the Ebb also manages to be extremely funny even as it peers into the abyss. The cast rises to the challenge of embodying the complex phrasing and ever-changing physical reality of her novelistic approach. Director Jessica Ammirati imaginatively visualizes the story’s shifting moods and varied settings, creating a series of haunting tableaus that mirror the dark lyricism of the text. She is aided by Sam Gordon’s fluid lighting, Ien DeNio’s sound design, and Phillip Roebuck’s atmospheric music.