The two-hour action embraces a dual theme: the woman and her
theatrical home for the last 13 years, the 73-seat Kitchen Theatre,
from which the company will depart shortly for a roomier location. It
is currently at the colonnaded, antebellum Clinton House in downtown
Ithaca, kitty-corner from the landmark Moosewood vegetarian restaurant.
Theatergoers have come to love the intimacy of the space and the
boldness of the company (a line from an advertising campaign).
But the facility was not built to be a theater, which can cause
problems, as Lampert relates. Without theatrical ventilation, a full
house raises the inside temperature to the upper 70s, even in January.
And this says nothing about the impossibility of certain entrances and
exits and a chronic squeak in the floorboards.
Losing Myself, however, is a far more ambitious venture than
a mere recitation of misadventures over the past 13 years. Not only
will the company move three blocks away to a new facility, whose
construction has fallen behind (many asides about this), but she has
just passed one of life’s big double-digit birthdays, making her the
same age as Cybill Shepherd and Christine Lahti. They’re not cited, but
you get the idea. Thus, at least part of the many words we hear are
meditations about the self, the creative process, the arc of life and
remaining expectations. It’s like a female version of movie director
Federico Fellini’s 8½ without the vanity or the confessions of infidelity.
At the beginning of the action Rachel the playwright and artistic
director intersects with Rachel the created dramatic character. On a
bare stage we see a treadmill running at low speed. Rachel the
character jumps on board and acknowledges that most people in the
audience already know her and quite a bit of her life. It will only be
alluded to here. She grew up in Borough Park, Brooklyn, in a household
where Leonard Bernstein was a revered figure. Before she can get into
her fuller story, she breaks into the curtain speech about turning off
cell phones and remembering where the exits are. Back in the created
character, she speeds up the treadmill until she begins to work up a
sweat, and then she projects a video of herself working the treadmill
faster still while her person jumps off the actual machine and breaks
through the fourth wall to speak to us in greater candor.
For many years Lampert headed a touring modern dance company (“I was
my own Jack Kerouac”) with Stephen Nunley, now her managing director. A
decades-old video testifies that she once had the sylph-like figure of
dancer and moved around the stage like a butterfly. That silhouette is
gone, and weight has become a concern. That’s one of the reasons why
she’s on the treadmill, which, of course, also suggests other
metaphors. Blessedly, she is neither self-flagellating nor self-pitying
about this. Then again, the constant need to lose weight intertwines
with other meanings of the word “lose,” such as losing one’s self in an
exhausting, all-enveloping profession, and even losing one’s mind.
Repeated motifs cite the fear of showing up for a dinner party a week
early or having left the newspaper in the refrigerator.
Having been an artist of movement and music, as artistic director of
the Kitchen Theatre she has become a word person. Threatening and
defining words flash in black and white behind her, well-handled by
E.D. Intemann. Lampert speaks of “shifting tectonic plates” beneath her
feet, perhaps set in motion by the traumatic as yet incomplete move to
the new building paralleled in her rite of passage. When someone
pronounces that this will be her new home, she thinks, “Does that mean
final resting place?” “Words are very particular,” she pronounces
gravely, followed by the flippant: “That’s why I like painting (at
least to look at).”
A key line is repeated in the first and second acts: “A building is a resonator of memories.” The prompt for Losing Myself is,
after all, leaving the Clinton House, and so there must be a
recollection of what has been happening on these boards, with more
coming in the second act. They start small, merely with narration, such
as the hilarious account of trying to accommodate an esteemed but aging
actor. He would appear and learn his lines all right but tried to
wrangle a way of leaving a show early and going home before the curtain
Following are recreations of individual productions, such as the youth-oriented Winter Tales with original music by Lesley Greene. Most memorable is the seriocomic recollection of an early production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town before
elders of the Tompkins Trust Company, who, it was hoped, would sign on
as the Kitchen’s first corporate sponsor. This called for a huge cast,
including many children, almost more than could stand all at one time
on the limited space.
Thus, the final funeral scene was staged with the cortege beginning
in the anteroom of the theater, an actual art gallery, and the mourners
filing in. Movement was slowed, however, when a child actor who had
gorged himself on cake and frosting barfed on the route of the
procession. Adding to the anxiety, Lampert herself was trapped on the
other side of the tiny theater and could not see all that was happening.
The episode, however, is not another example of kid actors doing the
darndest things. Instead, director Lampert restages the scene as it
should have been played, with solemn adults (Nunley, Green and Rob
Fancher) and child actors (Erin Hilgartner, Chunmei McKernan) all in
black. Their stylized, dance-like progression lengthens the time it
takes to move a short space, making the tiny Kitchen feel like the
route to the cemetery. After the frenzy and absurdity of the
circumstances, the scene still packs a wallop.
Losing Myself is site-specific and never can be recreated
anywhere else. And it points to how much can be accomplished in the
frozen wastelands of upstate New York in a very small space.
This production runs through Sunday, June 6. See Times Table for information.