By Tami Shaloum
There is something interesting going on in the back of a Mexican restaurant in Williamsburg and it’s not the fine cuisine. It’s LA SALA, an innovative performance space located in Cantina Royal. The room is equipped with high ceilings, blank walls, a projector, cabaret tables and a bar, and is especially well suited to the imaginative multimedia two-woman show, David’s RedHaired Death. The experimental play happens to make good use of the high ceilings, with the addition of two male aerialists, and the vast walls, with images and video projected onto three walls of the space.
The story is simple enough: two red-haired women, Jean and Marilyn, are introduced through an unseen mutual friend and fall in love. Right away, it seems as though they are soul mates. Aside from their shared hair color—a detail that threads throughout the play—they smoke the same cigarettes, have the same family composition, and often say the same things at the same time. Half the play deals with exploring this sudden and surprising mutual admiration. Interwoven in this narrative is the death of Jean’s brother, David. This, we know from the beginning (and the title), is imminent. It is the aftermath of that event that we do not see coming and which, along with the complexity of emotions the two actresses convey, adds some really deep intensity to the story.
The performances by Diana Beshara as Jean and Elizabeth Simmons as Marilyn are nothing short of magnetic. The two actresses are charming and exude chemistry as they flirt and discuss the many benefits of being a redhead. Sherry Kramer’s writing is quite poetic at times and utilizes repetition to great dramatic effect. The story seems to be set in some heightened reality, enhanced by dim lighting and an all white set with a red accent. My one technical complaint is that the aerialists, while skilled, seem a bit superfluous. They pop in about four times throughout the show, apropos of nothing, and perform their gravity defying moves. I understand the use of them in conveying the literal fall of a character, but it took me out of the story rather than enriching it.
If the first act is as dreamy as new love, shit gets real in the second act. All of a sudden, the red-haired curtain gets lifted and we see all the unnatural, brassy highlights. The dialogue ceases to be as lyrical. While it is admirable to let the tone shift a little, it is a little too jarring in this case. It seems as though the entire storytelling device changes. This is accentuated by a phone call that should have been a monologue, but instead we have to endure a hackneyed recording and pretend it is a dialogue. The story could have advanced without this detail.
Configuring the space to the performance and vice versa is an interesting way to deepen the story and inject some energy into the space as though it were another character. This is hopefully a theatrical device that continues to evolve. Even without it, David’s RedHaired Death is still a profound exploration of joy and sorrow, a juxtaposition of the bliss of new love and the depression that can overwhelm us, and a testament to the limits of love.
David’s RedHaired Death is currently playing at LA SALA in the back room of Cantina Royal at 58 North 3rd Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Performances are running until November 10 on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets include a free beer.