Theatre Review: ‘When Things Are Lost’ at Essential Play Festival

When Things Are LostBy Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

The Essential Theatre Play Festival specializes “in giving Georgia playwrights a voice on Georgia stages,” and that is what they’ve been doing since 1999.

There are two world premieres running in repertory: co-winners of the playwriting award. One of this year’s winners is “When Things Are Lost,” by Derek Dixon. It will run in repertory with the other winner, “Dispossessed,” by Karen Wurl, through Aug. 28.

According to Peter Hardy, Essential’s Artistic Director, “It’s (“When Things Are Lost”) a funny and scary dream journey about a young man searching for his best friend; it asks the question: If someone you loved was lost, how far would you go to find them?” It’s about friendship, loss, understanding, and forgiveness.

I like plays about friendship, which Keats called “the holy emotion.” But we’re wading into some fairly deep water here because we quickly detect we’re dealing with what is called “magical realism,” which is art (in this case, theatre) that portrays magical or “unreal” elements as a natural part of the environment.

Now this can be fascinating and fun, but it can also be a difficult trick to pull off and still hope to keep that “willing suspension of disbelief” without which theatre does not work. So Mr. Dixon and his director Amber Bradshaw take us by the hand, as it were, as far as they can, and that’s good; because there’s quicksand in these parts that can drag us down. How much you stay afloat depends in large part on how much you’re willing to trust your imagination before you slip into sheer wackiness.

We are rescued in large part by some very good actors, led by Barrett Doyle’s Andrew, who is looking for his best friend Michael, who has gone missing. Andrew will go to almost any length to find out what happened to Michael, from risking his life on a careening bus ride to Glen Rock, Wyoming, to cheerfully donning drag attire to try to reach people who can give him information about Michael.

By the way, the bus driver is played by Gina Rickicki, who gives a performance of lunging lunacy that is perfectly appropriate for the character and situation. Ms. Rickicki plays several parts, as do most of the actors. These include Alex Towers, Jill Perry, Anthony Goolsby, Kerwin Thompson, Chelsea Stevenson, and Alex Van, all of whom are focused and talented, and possessed of a fine sense of the absurd, which is crucial here.

There is also a pink bunny who appears out of nowhere but is accepted with casual amusement by the others. There should always be pink bunnies just around the corner to remind us of life’s uncertainties and ambiguities, the playwright seems to be saying. I would agree. They can sometimes be found looking in the mirror.

“Is imparting a moment of joy wrong?” asks one of the characters. And a still more universal question hovers over the proceedings: Who are you? Edward Albee says that he considers viewing a play a complete waste of time unless it causes you to think differently about things. Mr. Albee would probably like Derek Dixon’s “When Things Are Lost.”

Nevertheless, it still seems a work in progress in many ways; the blocking and staging can be quite rudimentary and at times awkward. And sometimes you really aren’t sure of what is going on. Still, I got whiffs of “Angels in America: Part II” and a touch of Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” That’s pretty heady company; Mr. Dixon is certainly not there yet; but hopefully he’s on his way.

Barrett Doyle’s totally sincere, earnest performance anchors the play; largely because of this actor’s gravitas we really care if Andrew finds Michael, or what happened to him. I certainly shall not tell.

For more information, visit essentialtheatre.com.