REVIEW: ‘Ways To Leave A Body’—World Premiere of two short plays at Cutting Ball (****)

by Charles Kruger

In “Restoration Master Reset,” Winona (Eliza Bolvin), traumatized by illness, looks with suspicion on her lover/caregiver Rhys (Kaitlyn Ortega). Photo Credit: Cutting Ball Theater.
Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

I can’t get this performance out of my mind.

“Ways To Leave A Body” consists of two short plays which explore how someone might respond to trauma. In “Restoration Master Reset” by Alexa Derman, a young college student struggles, with the help of her girlfriend, to deal with the chronic effects of persistent Lyme Disease, contracted when she was a child. In “True Romance” by Roxie Perkins, another young woman is dealing with the aftermath of a complex relationship and possible rape (I’m not exactly sure).

It has been a nearly a week since I attended, and left the theatre feeling somewhat irritated and puzzled, not at all pleased. Yet, in spite of that reaction, I continue to process this material after all these days.

So what did I see? Two short plays which don’t seem like plays at all, in that neither one really tells a story. Each is more like an exploration of a psychological state in which a traumatized person is effectively cut off from herself, or disassociated.

For Winona, the girl with Lyme disease in “Restoration Master Reset,” this disassociation takes the form of an obsessive denial about the medical facts of her illness, a fascination with unproven cures, other possible diseases, and deep suspicion, all leading to confusion and depression that her thoroughly devoted girlfriend can’t seem to relieve. In the second play, two young lovers are so disassociated that their voices and their bodies are separate entities. As a young man and woman interact with various degrees of intimacy, they communicate entirely in mime while another actor performs as a voiceover.

In both plays, the situation is fascinating, the performances technically proficient, but nothing seems to happen. Each piece is like an endless loop of obsessed frustration. As I watched, I became increasingly discomfited, wanting to escape. By the end of the evening, I realized I was enormously impressed with the actor’s technical excellence, while at the same time feeling utterly unsatisfied. I wrote in my notes: “Never have I seen a theatrical company work so hard for so little.”

And yet, I go back to where I began: “I can’t get this performance out of my mind.” Why is that?

I think that these two plays, in spite of all the irritation I felt as an audience member, did an extraordinary job of leading me to experience a deep empathy with the characters’ predicament. The irritation and frustration I felt in performance was not simply what I might feel from sitting through something that is not stageworthy, but rather it precisely provoked in me the kind of obsession and frustration and desperation that the characters were experiencing as they struggled with the alienating effects of their respective traumas.

As a result of seeing this work, I believe I will never again feel the same about friends living with chronic illness, disabilities, or PTSD from past abuse: my capacity to emphasize, I suspect, has been permanently deepened. Sitting through a puzzling evening of unusual theatre seems a small price to pay.

Even though I can’t say that this production is anything like a fun night on the town, I would recommend it to anybody willing to make a very significant effort to engage with something different, powerful, and brave.

“Ways To Leave A Body” continues at Cutting Ball Theater through February 9th. For further information click here.

Rating: **** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Please Read This (click here)

Ways To Leave A Body,” two new plays presented by Cutting Ball Theater.

“Restoration Master Reset” by Alexa Derman. Directed by Allie Moss. Cast—Winona: Eliza Bolvin. Rhys:” Kaitlyn Ortega. Expert Advice: Renee Rogoff.

“True Romance” by Roxie Perkins. Directed by Maya Herbsman. Cast—Body: Eliza Boivin. Voice: Renee Rogoff. Lover: Adam Niemann.

Scenic and Properties Designer: Adeline Smith. Costume Designer: Addison McDowell. Lighting Designer: Haley Miller. Sound Designer: Sara Witsch. 

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