Channeling Genres in Insomnia

Went and saw Insomnia at CPT last week (or maybe two weeks) with Jordan Davis. Had a real good time and enjoyed the show at CPT thoroughly.


Insomnia proves again why the combination of Raymond Bobgan and Chris Seibert is powerful. POWERFUL. Tack on Holly Holsinger who can thoroughly dominate (as both an actor and director) and you’ve got some seriously muscular theater, which Insomnia is. Both Bobgan and Seibert demonstrate again (also Holsinger) why the organic process that they use to create inspired productions works and works well. Their exploration of personal story, myth, and religion works on the level of the unconscious leaving one with the peculiar sensation of having slept well and dreamed. And their exploration and use of space, acting techniques, sound, lighting, as well as in the more physical aspects of comic theater give the mind’s eye a feast of stage images to connect with the psionic elements.

The play opens in the attic of a house, which is of course suggestive of the psychological landscape in which the play’s action will take place. At first I wondered if the piece weren’t somewhat like Albee’s Three Tall Women, with each woman representing a different phase of life for the “main” character. I initially thought that this “main” character, in terms of focus, was Holsinger’s character (Ev) but it became quickly clear that Seibert’s character (Zelda) represented an imaginary friend or invisible playmate; and that the “main” character might be Evelyn (Anne McEvoy), who comes up the stairs from the “real” world below.

Seibert as Zelda plays a magnificently manic playmate who reminded me all-too-well of my daughter: with endless pulses of energy and a ruthless and relentless desire to play something regardless of my own lack of interest. Zelda made manifest that constant pushing and prodding that children do so well, as well as a deceptively naïve sweetness that became sharply brutal and precise in a flashing turn. Holsinger lives up to her name by singing frequently throughout the piece, showing off a lovely, deep voice and from the program it appears that the songs are original.

The physical aspects of the production (presentational) are tremendous. At the outset there is only Holsinger on stage, but soon there is thumping inside a trunk which was perhaps overlooked by the audience (was by me) from which Seibert emerges, playfully. She uses a croquet mallet as a periscope and then dances across the stage. Holsinger and Seibert play dress-up and enact the rapid-fire characters and dialogue of a circa 1930s/40s movie, like It Happened One Night or His Girl Friday. In an inspired dream sequence Seibert becomes an elemental force from another plane, cloaked in a diaphanous flowing garment—a resplendent ghost.

Equally strong is the sense/meaning of loss and reckoning in the play; the terrible sense of having settled and having not fulfilled a potential. The sense that life has become mundane and polite; a place that is all too easy for each of us to fall into and to which to become accustomed. If we are not careful and watchful we are at risk of taking much for granted: our life path, the people around us, and perhaps worst of all, our own selves. Insomnia addresses this head long and with an unflinching gaze; so much so that one might lose sleep at the horrifying confrontation.

Not to close on a down note, but I want to get off my chest the fact that I did not like the ending of the piece. There are several reasons for this, but the two biggest include that it 1) broke the frame of the play (with Holsinger going around and out to talk with the audience) and 2) it attempted to but a bow on a play that was best left unwrapped. I understand the impulse. In talking with Jordan Davis afterward we discussed that one great difficulty in this type of piece is that it is very difficult to close off. In my own work I often confront this problem and flinch in the face of providing a neat ending—it is too much for me to bear. I believe Insomnia could end when Holsinger’s Ev is revealed as being the “main” character and walks confidently out of the attic closing the door to descend to the remains of her (old?) life below. The powerful sense that there will be change is comparable to that of Nora slamming the door at the end of Ibsen’s play. I don’t know if there was too much of a sense that perhaps people would miss the resolution of that, or if that was not concrete enough resolution, or if there needed to be some clarification. I didn’t think so, and to me it undermined the power of what came before.

Cut to Pieces, another fabulous piece about which I cannot say enough is coming back soon to CPT and I can’t wait to see it.

After Insomnia, Jordan and I went to Happy Dog and heard The New Soft Shoe, which does covers of Gram Parsons. It was a pretty cool show and we sat with some friends of Jordan’s, one of whom, strangely enough, was a graduating Case student who was in Gilbert Doho’s theater class when I went to speak to them about my play Patterns. Small world.

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