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by Kilian Melloy
Sunday Apr 24, 2016
Elliot Sicard and Alexandra Tsourides in 'Unsafe,' continuing through April 30 at the Boston Center for the Arts
Elliot Sicard and Alexandra Tsourides in 'Unsafe,' continuing through April 30 at the Boston Center for the Arts  (Source:Jim Dalglish)

Boston Public Works had an idea in mind when they first formed: Each of the founding members would write a play; they would produce those plays; and then, once all the plays had been produced, the company would dissolve. It's a great idea, because it brings a sense of heightened purpose and meaning to the company's work and existence. The one downside is that it all has to come to an end.

"Unsafe," the work of Jim Dalglish, is the company's penultimate production. Based on what you see here, you could wish for Boston Public Works to keep on for years to come.

"Unsafe" is set in New York City, a little more than a year after the events of September 11, 2001. Lisa (Anna Botsford) and her five-year-old daughter Georgie (Natalia Tsourides and Alexandra Tsourides share the role) have moved to a spare, warehouse-like apartment with its own elevator. It's a little like a fortress, and a little like a monastery. It's here that Lisa (who suffers from depression) and Georgie (who suffers from a genetic disorder called Williams Syndrome, which causes her developmental and behavior problems but also makes her highly sociable and talented at music) have retreated in the wake of the terrorist attacks that killed Lisa's husband, George.

The occasion is Lisa's fortieth birthday. Her parents Guy (H. Kempton Parker) and Yvonne (Michelle Pelletier) show up bearing gifts and plenty of familial baggage. Yvonne hits the bottle hard, and her demons -- never far from the surface -- come screaming out; Guy, meantime, is making legal arrangements with a medical researcher and Oliver Sacks-like writer Nate (Tony Travostino), who is observing Georgie to gather material for a new book. Nate also has eyes for Lisa, but little idea what to do about it; his overtures prove embarrassing and a little creepy.

There's another guest at the party, a fellow named Will (Elliot Sicard), and no one in the room except Georgie seems happy he's there. Ragged and hungry, Will is clearly homeless; it's strongly implied that the events of 9/11 tipped him over the edge, and he's been tumbling toward some horrific nadir ever since. But his connection with Georgie is deep and sincere, and the tension between him and Nate is palpable. Are the two men romantic rivals? What connection does -- or did -- Will share with Lisa? If Will represents unresolved issues that have finally come home, what else is he going to bring through the door with him?

"Unsafe" takes its title from its overt thesis that the world has become a dangerous place -- or rather, having always been a dangerous place, the illusion of safety these characters once enjoyed has been stripped away. This is clear before the play even starts, as rough-looking characters ("Wild Boys" who double as stagehands) loiter, shivering, on the street outside. The Wild Boys are played by Nick Bucchianeri, Lang Hayes, Peter Memire, Ian Morris, Chris Crider, and Nick Stewart; they also seem to represent some visible agency -- fate? A cabal of dark and diabolical gods? -- that freezes scenes in mid-action, swoops in to switch up the furniture (with loud, studied gracelessness) and tosses props into the action just as the characters, oblivious to their presence, need them.

The show runs about two and a half hours. Act One clocks in at an hour and a half, but flashes by with a taut, crackling energy. Act Two slows time and digs (or sinks) deeper into Will and Lisa, who have fraught, emotional exchanges that reveal how damaged they both are and reveals the nature of their highly complicated relationship. Much of what we see here is raw and lovely and exquisitely written and acted; there are some distracting repetitions, but nothing a little tightening couldn't fix up. Each of them clings to some sort of poison -- physical or psychological -- that threatens their well-being and sanity, perhaps even their lives. Each of them, in reflexive horror at the other's particular form of addiction, abruptly and catastrophically deprives the other one of what he or she has been clinging to. The result is harrowing: They're like two drowning swimmers dragging each other down. Is there any way out?

Dalglish directs his play with relentless efficiency, bringing his vision to riveting life. Greg Hamm's lighting design paints the play as if with emotional tones, from the cold of the December night to the shimmering warmth of a revered memory. Tristan DeVincenzo's scenic design is deceptively simple: It can't be easy to make a space look that barren and unfriendly. Greta Bieg's costumes lend Guy his patrician dignity, Nate his uneasily-worn status, Yvonne her long-faded glamor, Will his desperation, and Lisa her weary grief. All the elements are there, and they come together with unrelenting precision.

This play abounds with devastation and sorrow, and not a lot of comfort. It's also a powerful evening of theater. Be brave: Check it out.

"Unsafe" continues through April 30 at the Boston Center for the Arts. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.bostonpublicworks.org/unsafe.html

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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