This Time Tomorrow
Directed by Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone
Created with and performed by Ben Beckley, Dan Cozzens and Paola di Tolla
By 7:45pm on Tuesday night an unusually large crowd had assembled at the lovely Blue Marble Ice Cream shop on Underhill Avenue in Prospect Heights. The hot chocolate-sippers and ice cream-scoopers spilled out from the small space onto the sidewalk, the one spot of activity on an otherwise quiet residential block on this chilly fall evening. "I hope the performance starts here," said one of a small crowd of drama students milling around a bench. "What do you mean," asked another in the group, indicating the ice cream shop with a nod, "isn't the show happening here?" "No, it's in that church," responded her friend, pointing at the looming form of the Duryea Presbyterian Church across the street on the corner of Sterling Place. "Didn't you read the email?"
In the absence of a conventional box office or venue, all reservations for This Time Tomorrow
(through November 13) are made online
, and attendees are instructed via email to congregate at Blue Marble
for complimentary hot chocolate before being lead into the dramatic church across the street, and from there taken by co-directors Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone into its basement. In that low-ceilinged space, four rows of seats are set on risers before curtains. Those seated in the front row, as I was, are so close that their knees touch the curtains, giving the impression that it is we who are onstage, and that they will pull back to reveal an expectant audience. When co-directors Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone do open the curtains we see a large, fairly typical church basement, with vinyl floors, fluorescent lights, some folding tables and chairs placed at random along with a few stray balloons and garlands, as though there'd been a bake sale that morning. It's a space with a surprising amount of character.
There's only one performer in the expansive space at first, Paola di Tolla, and she's looking at the audience intently, assuming a series of torturous, tense poses, arms stretched, up on her toes, face grimacing, looking towards us in expectation of some reaction that we're unable to provide. This will be a recurring motif in our interactions with di Tolla, and to a lesser degree her cast-mates, trying to react appropriately to her expectant looks. This is most overt later on during a brief game of charades, when the bulk of the production's few, random lines are spoken by the befuddled audience: "Twister! Hurdle! Loop! Lasso!" Whatever she's trying to convey, we never get it, although notions of looping and cycles of repetition are certainly pertinent to the performance. Shortly after the curtains are pulled back Ben Beckley and Dan Cozzens join di Tolla, the former emerging from an adjacent bathroom, the other from a door labeled "Boiler Room" at the far end of the basement. Their ensuing, almost wordless performance, equal parts dance, mime, clown and physical comedy, evolves in cycles of repetition and difference.
There are passages when all three actors seem to pursue their individual ideas or impulses—as when Beckley carries a teetering book rack across the space, dropping volume after volume. Other times two or all of them are taken by the same notion, and what could be best described as a coordinated dance ensues, as if all three bodies were responding to a single mind. A series of rhythmic cycles, with the actors repeating movements and sounds in time to each other like a three-person human beatbox, have all the drive and clarity of very deliberate choreography. The piece's grueling physicality evokes dance as well, with the trio running through the space, moving furniture, pulling themselves along the floor, compulsively reiterating gestures as if to test their stamina. But the emphasis on making the audience acutely self-aware is distinctly theatrical.
Whether at the far end of the basement, or right next to us, the actors—at least when not consumed by some single-minded and indecipherable purpose—seem to be testing us, gauging how we react, or whether we do so correctly. This re-emphasizes the sense that we're performing as well, trying to provide the right response to crack their strange code. The constant exchange of deep, intense stares between actors and audience gives the very physical and funny marathon performance immense profundity. Though it demands a great deal from performers and spectators, This Time Tomorrow
gives it back in spades.
(photos courtesy Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone)