Mind meld

Possible Worlds

By John Mighton
Directed by Mimi McGurl
Manhattan Theatre Source
177 MacDougal St. (501-4751)
Equity showcase (closes March 9)
Review by Adam Cooper

In a production that wholly emulated a puzzle, John Mighton's Possible Worlds attempted to merge science fiction and romance into a murder mystery, yielding a high-tech production with unsatisfying storytelling. Through trying to explore ideas about multiple selves in multiple universes in the context of building a romance and solving a homicide, Mighton's script succeeded in playing with puzzle pieces but did not achieve the assemblage of a complete picture.

This brief 70-minute one-act flashes through a slew of short scenes following the murdered-yet-very-much-alive protagonist George (Brian Quirk) living simultaneously different lives and meeting Joyce (Kristen Fairchild), who herself lives simultaneously different lives in different worlds. Each of their selves has different personalities, occupations, and lifestyles and thus different outcomes occur between the romances of each set of characters. Meanwhile, two cops, Berkley (Mark Stone) and Williams (Greg Harr) attempt to solve George's mysterious brain-robbing murder. A final character, Penfield (Chris McBurney), a nebbish scientist who studies brain activity, may provide insight into many of the play's mysteries.

Inevitably the multiple selves communicate with each other creating fear, confusion, and disruption in the characters' lives. Yet even with the dynamics of comparing and contrasting what-ifs in developing romances, an interstellar dream sequence, and a second murder, the clarity of the playwright's complex vision is obscured in its realization on stage. Thus, for example, the pathos and irony of the final post-mortem blissful beach scene between George and Joyce, reminiscent of the final rowboat scene of the multiple reality film The French Lieutenant's Woman, was never actualized.

Direction and acting were sturdy and efficient and yet were not able to surmount the problem of the production's being an intellectual exercise rather than a feeling experience. Adding to a certain lack of accessibility in the text, the detective subplot was hampered by pat dialogue, static scenework, and repetition, and the romance sequences were only modestly engaging.

Possible Worlds' production values were enjoyably high. The multi-functional set design (Luke Hegel-Cantarella) made of file boxes and portable tables made the playspace seem like a maze in flux. Lighting design (Rebecca Makus), which included a slide show of contrasting street and cosmic imagery, was clever in its ability to capture visually the ideas of the play. In addition, the sound design (Neil Cabana and Andy Grooms) was also effective in aurally establishing location and mood. Costume design (uncredited) was successful in defining time, place, and character.

Functionally, the production was entertaining and somewhat intriguing, but it never achieved the upper echelon of good drama. It favored intellectualizing and contrivance over emotional experience. Missing from the action was the anticipation of the unraveling of a mystery or the passion of a blossoming romance or the mind-bending of science fiction. In trying to take on three storytelling genres at once, the play never fully realized any of them.

 Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2002 Adam Cooper