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Previews: 05/18/10- Close: 06/13/10 Before Your Very Eyes
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Heather Violanti

Edward Elefterion ©2019  (l-r) Bobby Abido, Damon Pooser, Diana DeLaCruz, Sanam Erfani

Rabbit Hole Ensemble summarizes their mission as "Strong stories, told simply and theatrically, without much technology."   That philosophy pervades their newest work, BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES, written and directed by Rabbit Hole Ensemble's artistic director Edward Elefterion.  It's a strong story, simply told, without technical wizardry.  Five people are changed forever by September 11, disaster and loss forcing them to finally confront their true selves.  Scenery and props are minimal.  The Flamboyan Theatre's cavernous thrust stage is nearly bare, except for a large table and a stool.  Lighting and sound design are well-done, but the technical elements never upstage the story.  In short, BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES is a beautiful play, given a taut, powerful production...but something's missing.  The play's brain feels disconnected from its heart,  It's as sterile in places as it is heartbreaking,  a soul-searching examination of the aftermath of 9/11 that never quite finds its soul.  Still, it is a singular work that clearly displays the promise of this five-year-old company.

At first glance, Elefterion's  five characters would seem cliches:  Kate, the earnest children's book author; her husband John, the brave survivor; Amir, the angry young man who feels guilty for his brother's death; Lakshmi, Amir's pragmatic, supportive wife; and Evonne, the delicate widow who can't accept that her husband jumped off the Twin Towers.   But they are more--and less--than whom they seem to be.   Kate is relieved John is alive, but she gradually discovers she can't deal with the weight of the emotional aftermath.  John is haunted by what he saw that day, and a terrible secret few can even imagine.  Amir tries to bury his grief by creating a website centered on various conspiracy theories behind the attacks, but he is shocked to find the truth may be even more horrible than he could guess.  Lakshmi is initially appalled by Amir's site, but she gradually becomes absorbed by the process of uncovering truth, hoping to find solace in understanding.  Evonne discovers she didn't love her husband at the time he died, but now she's falling in love with his memory...and lashing out her pent-up rage.   Each one questions the truth of his or her memories, and the truth about each other 

Edward Elefterion ©2019  (l-r) Elyse Knight, Damon Pooser

The scenes that resonate most are the ones between Kate and John.  They're filled with the most tension, and some of the play's most chilling poetry.  Witness the vivid, simple honesty of John's monologue to Kate, in which he imagines what it must have been like to jump from the towers:

JOHN
Fire at my back.
The floor maybe opened and gaping behind me.
And through the smoke fighting for escape in front of me…
Glimpses of blue sky,
Matchbox fire trucks below,
Swarms of ants rushing uptown…
I have a choice.

BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES loses steam as the stories of its characters collide.  A frantic, furtive kiss between John and Evonne feels more like a transplanted scene from a Lifetime Movie than part of this play's emotionally circumspect universe.  Amir's dangerous discovery about a potential homegrown conspiracy behind the towers' collapse--thanks to information from John-- is rooted in genuine theory. (A quick Google search reveals many different conspiracy theories for 9/11).  But the characters' quick acceptance of this discovery as absolute fact--and its dire consequences--seem too certain in an otherwise uncertain play.  True, BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES is about re-examining reality, but this final revelation seems almost too easy--and definitive--a conclusion in a play that til now has  posed more questions than answers.  .  Truth constantly shifts in this world, so somehow, the revelation of any fact is hard to believe.

Elefterion directs his ensemble with a deft hand, eliciting searing performances from the ensemble.  Each actor--Elyse Knight (Kate), Damon Pooser (John), Bobby Abido (Amir), Sanam Erfani (Lakshmi), and Diana DeLaCruz (Evonne)--fully inhabits his or her role and imbues even the smallest gesture with emotional precision.   Still,   sometimes the scenes burst with heat, sometimes they seem unduly sluggish.  In particular, the opening is curiously devoid of urgency.  The play begins a woman listening to the last phone message from her dying husband...but then it's revealed this woman is Kate, the best friend of Evonne, whose husband it is on the phone.  It's a surprising twist, but there's a strange, seemingly unintended listlessness to the scene that feels odd.

Ultimately, BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES may be uneven, but it displays the incredible talent of the Rabbit Hole Ensemble and provides a provocative meditation on September 11.   See it and uncover your own truth.

Venue:
Flamboyan Theater (csv Cultural Arts Ce : 107 Suffolk Street