It's a beautiful mess. Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s circular set rests beneath a circular lighting fixture that fittingly references the one above The War Room in Dr. Strangelove. This is Renaissance Theaterworks' world premiere of playwright Kristin Idaszak’s mind-bending dystopian one-woman drama Tidy. The stage rests beneath a small city of clutter. Noele Stollmack’s lighting design casts the mess onstage in a shadowy hue of blue that seems to permeate everything. Movement becomes apparent behind a stack of boxes. It’s actress Cassandra Bissell who glances over everything in the sole role of The Detective. She’s dressed quite casually in a space that she considers to be her home.
A Welcome In the Shadows of Human Residue
The Detective is cleaning-up for a get-together. Judging from the state of the stage, she’s got a hell of a lot of work to do. She’s not getting any help from her partner Joy. Joy has left the apartment and it’s up to the detective to make the place presentable for the people who are coming to visit. It’s okay: she wants to do it. (She really does.) She’s excavating the past by looking over so many things that she really should simply throw away. In the process of the excavation, she stumbles into a mystery which calls every possible assumption into question.
Echoes of a Simple Gravity
Bissell offers a thoughtful performance that radiates charisma throughout the entire one-woman show. Idaszak’s script is dense and deeply engaging, but without the right mood, motion and emotion all of those details would be hopelessly lost. And it isn’t easy to maintain an audience’s interest for 90 minutes or more without intermission. To make matters more difficult, Idaszak’s script demands that The Detective avoid anything that would suggest a commanding stage presence. Bissell is contemplative. She’s cleverly curious. She doesn’t have to reach out and grab the audience. Attention simply...falls into her like gravity. She deftly coaxes the audience into casually noticing strange depth in even the smallest details of a script that is cluttered with fascinating details. Some of them are clues. Some of them are red herrings. Some of them spark joy. All of them hold interest.
An Exploration of Ambiguity
(Here There Are Spoilers)
It’s difficult to mention much of the substance behind the show without spilling spoilers all over the place. The play is set “next year.” All too often dystopian dramas attempt to assault the viewer with the overwhelming darkness. Idaszak allows the ecological apocalypse to settle-in around the edges of a perfectly normal process of cleaning and tidying-up. The apocalypse slowly sneaks-in around the edges that way it has in the world outside the theatre.
The Holocene Extinction is very real and very tragic, but it’s not something that makes for terribly compelling drama...until someone like Isaszak comes along and makes some kind of genius detail-driven paranoid nightmare fairy tale for the children of the information age. It’s a prismatic funhouse of a story. When it becomes apparent that The Detective might not have the capacity to be a totally reliable narrator, a particularly engaged audience might find reason to question every last detail in Isaszak’s script. There’s a tantalizing ambiguity about it all that speaks to the greater mysteries of human existence. The fact that it’s also roughly 90 minutes without intermission means that there’s plenty of time after the show in which to get into some pretty deep discussion on one of the most provocative shows onstage this season.
Renaissance Theaterworks’ world premiere production of Tidy runs through April 16th at the theatre on 255 S Water St. For more information, visit Renaissance online.