Hartford Stage’s “Reverberation” Focuses on Human Connection

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

By Karen Isaacs

  Human connection, touch, interaction with others are all basic human needs. The lack of them, psychologists tell us, can lead to serious mental and physical illnesses. In fact prolonged deprivation of these — such as in solitary confinement — are often considered “inhumane” treatment.

Our modern world of technology can appear to foster this interconnectedness but in reality often isolates us more.

What happens when an event causes someone to retreat from the world and this human connection?

In Matthew Lopez’s stunning play Reverberation getting its world premier at Hartford Stage through March 15, we see three people struggling to maintain those human connections.

Each appears somewhat wounded and therefore leery of reaching out and really engaging with others.

The setting is two apartments in Astoria, Queens just a few months ago. Jonathan is a 35-year-old illustrator who has lived in the building for years.  We meet him having a brief sexual encounter with a younger man; they had hooked up using the Grindr app on their smart phones.  While  the young man, Wes, would be willing to stay, Jonathan is anxious to have him leave.  But before Wes leaves, Jonathan loans him the James Baldwin novel Another Country which Jonathan reveals has been an important book in his life.

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Soon we see Claire, his new upstairs neighbor come home. While Jonathan’s apartment has furniture and  paintings and books, hers has a camp chair, a TV and an air mattress. Obviously she relocates frequently.

But Claire can’t seem to unzip the zipper of her “date” dress and so goes downstairs to ask for Jonathan’s help.  While he tries unsuccessfully to undo the zipper he is also anxious for her leave. But over the next two months, the two begin a tenuous relationship.  At first he tries to avoid her, even if it means creating a pretense to avoid walking down the stairs at the same time as her, but they do begin to talk a bit and reveal their lives.

She works in retail, has moved around the country and globe, and seems to usually be involved with inappropriate men.  Jonathan, who illustrates sympathy cards, seldom leaves his apartment and sees no one except the men he meets on grindr.

One evening he cooks dinner for Claire, and after the meal, tells her about  the horrible and tragic  experience which has caused him to with draw.   They hold each other briefly.

It seems as though there is a glimmer of hope for each of them.  They are each reaching out to form what most of us would view as a healthy connection, depending on each other for daily chit chat and interaction with a friendly face.

Act two opens with Jonathan’s apartment looking different — the large paintings are off the walls and we soon learn that he is now unemployed. It is December, that time of year when friends and family get together.  He and Claire make plans to rent a house in Vermont for the holidays;  his dream had been to live there in an old farmhouse with a fireplace.

We can sense that this idyllic holiday is bound to never occur because the past will continue to reverberate in the present lives of these two people.  How and why the trip never occurs, I will not reveal but to say that these tentative steps towards real interaction are broken.

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Matthew Lopez is a fine younger playwright; Hartford Stage audiences have had the pleasure of seeing his plays The Whipping Man (2012) and Somewhere (2014).  This plays reveals a maturity in his art as he intertwines three characters and their stories. Without being preachy or obvious, he reveals something meaningful about our human condition and the world in which we live.

It is interesting that the early dialogue in the play is almost a monologue by Jonathan about the superiority of reading an actual book — each looks, feels and is different — rather than an ubiquitous Kindle.  It relates so to our dedication to our social media apps rather than real connections with other people.

The three person cast is outstanding.  Luke MacFarlane as Jonathan draws a complex portrait of a man who has been so wounded that, like a wild animal, he can only hide in his cave except for an occasional foraging trip.  Aya Cash as Claire takes a role that could be a stereotype — the somewhat drifting,  young woman and turns her in to a complex person, who is running away from real commitment.  Carl Lundstedt as Wes also shows us a young man who though superficially happy is also seeking for something more honest.  He is the least afraid of all of them;  perhaps as the youngest, he has been least damaged and therefore more willing to take the risk for a connection.

Maxwell Williams, the associate artistic direction who is soon leaving to take over a theater in New Orleans, directs the cast with sensitivity and honesty.

Andromache Chalfant has created a two level set and stairwell that gives us a very real sense of a NYC apartment complete with the minimal furnishings that Claire has.  Linda Cho’s costumes help establish characters.  The lighting by Matthew Richards is subtle but effective in creating mood.

Reverberation is a play that shows the development of playwright whose future works I look forward to seeing.  It is a thought provoking and at times a disturbing look at our modern society.

Reverberation is at Hartford stage, 50 Church St., Hartford through March 15. For tickets visit http://www.hartfordstage.org or call the box office at 860-527-5151.

This review is courtesy of Shore Publications and http://www.zip06.com.

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