Friday, June 02, 2017

Objects in the Mirror at the Goodman Theatre

I have been critical of some of the Goodman Theatre’s recent offerings because of what I have deemed   “over-producing.”    They have seemed to want to make a visual splash just because they have a big stage and can afford fill it with lavish set pieces and rock and roll lighting.   
It is with pleasure that I can report that the current Goodman production of Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith (Not Chuck Smith, who is the director) allays my fears.  Objects is a small show (only five cast members) that uses magnificent but simple visuals to support and deepen its multiple meanings.  
The plot is as old as the Bible and as current as today’s headlines. A young Liberian refugee flees horrific violence and corruption, finds himself much safer physically in Australia,  but still tormented as to his real home and his human identity.  And therein lies the nub.  The objects in the rear view mirror always remain “closer than you think.”   Your former life cannot be erased by re-painting the foyer multiple times.  ZaZa nee Shedric can still see the original  color even if his helpful Aussie lawyer can’t. 
The play pulsates with this conflict.  The African finds a peaceful scenic vista of sky, shore, and sand  in his new home, but also finds residual colonial racism.   The set design is spot on.  Two modern spare scenes glide in on wagons. A roof line descends from above.  Behind them are two huge sliding panels that are used for projections. When narrowed they serve as a central entrance; when opened fully they expose a giant drop of shore and sea fronted by a narrow pit of real sand.     The views whether interior or exterior expose brilliantly the small lonely soul adrift in sea of modern sterility or a cosmos that offers vast hope but no real answers.   Immigrants opines Smith, will always remain immigrants.  They cannot lose their previous lives or paper over the violence of the journey.  Integration, as the white western world like to think it might be, is not simple and may indeed not even be possible.  The objects in the mirror don’t go away and are always closer to the surface than they seem.  The motives of all the characters are shifting as their stories shift and we cannot ever know which of their stories is true.  In the final image the sliding panels open to full width as the roof rises leaving Shedric full back and alone on the shore with arms raised to the sea.  Will Shedric stay in Australia or flee to another new place with his uncle?  As the curtain falls we don’t know.  What we do know is that this young man will never be able to snuff out his past; it is a part of him for the rest of his days.
The cast is superlative and so beautifully balanced that to separate out any one of them would be unfair.   

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