Entangled is a departure from The Amoralists‘ wonted gritty realism. This epistolary two-hander by Gabriel Jason Dean and Charly Evon Simpson tackles an agonizing subject ripped bloodily from the headlines. In doing so it dispenses with dialogue and traditional dramaturgy, presenting instead two isolated characters in search of an elusive peace of mind.
James Kautz, The Amoralists’ artistic director and a mainstay of its casts, plays Bradley. He’s the older brother of a fictional mass murderer who opened fire in a planetarium killing 46 people, many of them children. Naomi Lorrain is Greta, single mother of one of the young victims. Over 90 minutes their alternating narratives dance apart, and try to intersect, as the two struggle separately through the traumas of guilt and grief, anger and the quest for acceptance.
With the entire action consisting of two long, broken monologues, the play isn’t consistently gripping. But it does compel us to put ourselves in the shoes of these two very different victims. And it develops momentum. We learn more and more about the backgrounds and mindsets of these individuals, through the common lens of the nightmare they’re living through. There’s even character development, at least in Bradley’s case. His descent from a happy relationship and an independent life into mental illness and dependency on his parents feels like something that could happen to any of us, given a few strokes of bad luck.
The story becomes more compelling as it gathers depth. In one especially effective passage, Greta and Bradley mark a sequence of numbered days as a measure of their processing. “37 nights of realizing I am going to forget parts of her,” Greta wails. “Day 68,” says Bradley, “My boss told me I need a vacation. ‘Forget things for a while’… That’s hilarious. I will never again have the privilege of intentional ignorance.” Greta realizes with regret that her beloved daughter’s memory is going to dim. Bradley has the opposite problem: He’s haunted by the ghost of his murderous little brother. Greta makes us painfully aware of the role race plays in black people’s lives no matter their station in life. Bradley makes his psychological breakdown feel real.
The play’s conceit of people who never meet in person connecting, if not communicating, electronically is as relevant to our times as the story of a mass shooting. Bradley and Greta read us the emails they write to one another – the ones they send and the ones they don’t. It’s an interesting updating of old-fashioned epistolary storytelling – The Moonstone, Dracula, The Color Purple – into the digital age, when once again we communicate so much in writing.
To some degree, though, the production gets stuck in a web of artsiness. Bradley’s opening monologue feels more like a drama class exercise than a fully realized scene. The most self-consciously poetic parts of Dean and Simpson’s script seem to ask us to mark their ways with words more than the humanity of their characters. Christina Watanabe’s frequent lighting changes, highly skillful as they are, grow overindulgent, a reflection of Kate Moore Heaney’s pinpoint direction, so careful it feels precious. And even late in the story, some passages grow tedious. I think there’s more than we need here – lots of meat on the bones, but a little too much fat too.
Imaginatively conceived and very well played, Entangled is the latest entry in a series called RICOCHET: An Amoralists Anthology about Surviving an American Epidemic. It’s at A.R.T./New York Theatres on West 53 St. until May 11. For tickets visit The Amoralists’ website.