This Bulgarian play has an innovative spirit that’s often lacking in Fringe shows. Honestly, I went to see it simply because I’d never seen a play from Bulgaria before. But I appreciated it because it wasn’t like anything I’d seen before, from anywhere.
In the theatrical vernacular, ‘The Spider’ is a two-hander, but that comes with an asterisk. Penko Gospodimov and Anastassia Liutova play adult conjoined twins. I felt reluctant to give that away, but the promo materials say so, even though the play doesn’t reveal it until a little way in; the first few minutes show us what looks to be a bored-looking married couple taking a bath together. Sitting in the tub they read, drink, talk, bicker, argue, and finally the word “divorce” is spoken. Then they stand up.
The “divorce” in question is actually a dangerous surgery to separate the siblings, a procedure whose imminence catalyzes a series of R-rated outbursts and revelations artfully paced to keep our attention riveted. (And that’s in spite of some timing problems with the English-translation supertitles, a glitch I assume will be resolved in future performances – I saw the show’s New York Fringe debut). Even in a foreign language with mis-timed translations, these two charismatic actors kept the audience entirely with them. Wrestling with their mismatched feelings about the surgery, about their futures, and about one another, Martha and Martin rant and and roar and descend into the raw meat of the human condition we all share regardless of whether we’re normal or an eight-limbed “mistake.”
The tub they’re sloshing in serves as an adult-sized womb that’s painfully hard to break out of, especially for him. Early on, in a moment that seems trivial at first, he resists even her need to step out to use the toilet. “We have a beautiful life together,” he protests as she presses him about the surgery. They, he declares, are what married couples everywhere wish and hope to be: a more perfect union. “I want to be by your side even when you’re hysterical.” But if depth of attachment goes deeper than what can be realized, what are the prospects for happiness? What happens when one partner doesn’t want to let the other go? These are questions that can baffle and plague us all.
Gospodimov and Liutova become their characters so thoroughly that the unlikelihood of the premise ceases to register and they become, both metaphorically and viscerally, an embodiment of attachment – maternal, emotional, sexual. Nearly naked, wet like newborns, each time they rise from the tub or stagger about the room the separate pains of these two individuals become darkness visible.
Written and directed by Dimitar Dimotrov and Yordan Slaveykov, this superb work has several more performances during the NYC Fringe through August 16. Visit the Fringe website for days and times.