by Mike Hoban
‘Plank’ – Written by John Greiner-Ferris. Directed by Megan Schy Gleeson. Presented by the Alley Cat Theater at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts through September 16
Playwright John Greiner-Ferris’ metaphorical new work makes the case for an idyllic isolationist existence in nature versus what he sees as the rigid structure and empty spiritual realm of digitized 21st Century. And while his vision may be a little black and white, it’s a game effort, worth seeing for its visuals as well as the performance by lead actor Poornima Kirby. Kirby is utterly charming as Potpee (Person on the Plank), the guileless young woman who finds herself adrift at sea before washing up on the shores of a seemingly Trump-less but nonetheless hostile USA-like land, where we are apparently powerless over the Facebook/cell phone/celebrity culture that is stealing our souls.
The play opens with Potpee bursting from underwater to the surface (with the aid of some indeterminate sea creatures), where she clutches to a chunk of the titular wood to keep afloat, then physically and mentally drifts for an undetermined stretch of time. Greiner-Ferris enlists the help of scenic designer Ji Young Han, lighting/projections designer Barbara Craig, and sound designers Ned Singh to create a world that allows the audience to suspend disbelief as they transform the theater space into a starlit ocean, complete with rolling seas supplied by the balletic movements of four actors and original music by Peter Warren & Matt Somalis. There is no choreographer listed, so credit for coordinating the movement must go to director Megan Schy Gleeson, whose pacing also keeps the audience engaged despite long pauses during the at-sea scenes.
The ocean takes care of Potpee’s needs, as a sandwich, a soda and a copy of Moby Dick magically appear, and she spends her days deep in thought, conversing only with a whale and her calf. When she finally comes upon land, she meets Mercedes, an over-the-top authoritarian (Liz Adams in a trademark high-status performance) who is costumed in what can only be described as a cross between a flaming red Drum Majorette outfit and a uniform from whatever army Michael Jackson thought he was commanding – complete with a matching 55 gallon star-spangled handbag. She also meets Thimble (Sydney Grant), a somewhat timid young woman, who, while acceding to the commands of the domineering Mercedes, seems open to the ideas that Potpee espouses – that life can be more than just going along to get along if you’re willing to take risks.
At an hour and 45 minutes, Plank may be a little long for some tastes (not this reviewer), and Greiner-Ferris may be painting with too broad a brush to make a really meaningful statement, but it is visually beautiful, with strong performances by the cast, including Fray Cordero and Adam Lokken as sea elements Swell and Fetch. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary that also takes a few comical jabs at our digital obsessions, this is worth a look. For more info, go to: www.alleycattheater.org