Bottom of the World

By Lucy Thurber
Directed by Caitriona McLaughlin
Featuring Crystal A. Dickinson, Jessica Love, Aubrey Dollar, Kristin Griffith
Atlantic Theater Company, Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W 16th Street
production web site:
through October 3, 2010

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
September 23, 2010

The stage universe of Lucy Thurber’s Bottom of the World premiere production in the lower level remove of ATC’s 2nd Stage performance space is partially assembled and multi-layered, violin/banjo/mandolin bluegrass tonal accompaniment, and shadow and light.  The stories are similarly layered and evolving. And it’s a mesmerizing theatrical ride.

Scenic design by Walt Spangler draws you into a world between worlds immediately.  Rough hewn timbers stretch overhead in the black walled, black box space.  Timbers spread from intentionally partially constructed piles filling the right side of the stage.  Cardboard boxes, random bits of furniture, the splay of timber spreads up the edge of the stage across the stage diagonally (audience right to audience left and out into the audience at the level of the stage lights.  In this black box proscenium, the raw pine planks are striking against the deep grey black.  The show promises to tell a story of dream realized, dream frustrated, dreams fulfilled.

Abigail (Crystal A. Dickinson) and Susan (Aubrey Dollar) mourn the death (not well explained, but we know it involved a fire) of Abigail’s half-sister Kate (Jessica Love).  Kate’s spirit, who comments on the action and holds conversations with Abigail, alternating with reading passages from her recently published book, lives on a second story structure out of the splayed timber, above the action.  Kate is joined in her aerie word by two talented bluegrass musicians (Alexander Sovronsky and Bennett Sullivan) who underscore the action and augment the sound design by Robert Kaplowitz.  And other characters represent friends and lovers and parents and others in the present day (Abigail and Susan getting over their grief) and the stories of rural life in Kate’s novel.

This is a story of people heard and not heard, seen and not seen, connections desired and (for the most part) not achieved.  And yet we’re left with hope for connections to be made.  Fictional Ely (Brandon J. Dirden) on his unrequited love interest: “No matter what I do I’m just not it.”  And the theme of seeing and not seeing / looking and not absorbing.  “You can see someone so often and not look”; “He loves me but he doesn’t notice me.”  And a another twist on the not-seeing: “Do you have any idea how much you have to love someone to take them for granted?”  The words of one fictional spouse to another (about the passage of time not seen on the face of someone you love): “Your face stays still — it’s the world that moves past it.”

Stories of love with lovely original music and a creative set, lights, design, and performances to set it all off.  Delicious.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 26, 2010)

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