Entertainment » Theatre

What Once We Felt

by Robert Israel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Mar 17, 2014
What Once We Felt

"Get ready for the future, baby, it is murder," Leonard Cohen once sang, and his crooning dystopian lullaby is a perfect condiment to Ann Marie Healy's darkly disturbing play "What Once We Felt". Presented by Flat Earth Theatre, the futuristic drama continues at the Davis Square Theatre in Somerville through March 23.

So, too, is H.G. Wells' novella, "The Time Machine," in which the Haves -- the Children of Light known as the Eloi -- populate the world and tend to the garden, while the Morlocks -- the Have-Nots -- live below the ground and prey upon those innocent flower children for food and sport.

In Healy's play the Haves are called Keepers, and the Have-Nots are Tradebacks. There are no men.

Meredith Saran as Laura in "What Once We Felt"  (Source:Flat Earth Theatre)

There are comedic flashes of brilliance in the writing throughout, especially those passages about the publishing industry, encapsulated with keen insight into trends that are now replacing books with digitalized editions.

You may not see another play like it -- "What Once We Felt" stands alone in its eerie and icy depictions of the morphing of our world and the civilization we have come to know in years to come.

The Flat Earth cast plays on the flat floor of the Davis Square Theatre, a cramped performance space once populated by comedian Jimmy Tingle. It is now chopped up into a warren of rooms, several of which are devoted to serving food and beverage. It is not the most ideal space to see a play about the future of our planet, and many of the lines are lost due to the room’s poor acoustics.

The play does not give us fully realized people, but character sketches instead, as if lifted off the pages of a graphic novel. They speak in sound bites that would fit in comic page balloons above their faces. The poster design, by Stewart Holmes, actually a series of well-illustrated panels that click into place to create a complete image, adds to this effect. It successfully places us in a world we are familiar with -- a cityscape, the interior of a publishing office -- even if that world is ultimately revealed as one we’d never want to live in.

Kelly Chick aas Macy in "What Once We Felt"  (Source:Flat Earth Theatre)

That’s just one of the challenges presented by this beguiling script which presents a lot of information about this futuristic metamorphosis in such a grim manner that it causes us to recoil when we consider the genetic, scientific, intellectual, and humanistic consequences. When the play opened off-Broadway in 2009, it garnered less than stellar reviews, with many critics commenting on these very challenges.

The Flat Earth cast does remarkably well, given the weightiness of the script and its ponderous vision. Two particular players shine above the rest. There’s Meredith Saran, who performs as line editor Laura. I first saw her in a production of "She Kills Monsters" at Company One, and she left an impression as one who is a gifted actress, highly capable of commanding the stage with clarity of voice and a sparkle of mischief to her eye. As Macy, a frenetic writer who hungers for praise for her novel, the talented Kelly Chick is outstanding, too, able to give us the frenzy of her tumultuous life in Future Land without dizzying us in the process.

The play is unsettling, disturbing and creepy, all rolled into one, and worth seeking out if only to shakes us from our comfortable lives into an awareness of futuristic life we might want to work collectively to prevent from ever taking place.

"What Once We Felt", by Ann Marie Healy, directed by Lindsay Eagle, presented by Flat Earth Theatre, at the David Square Theatre, 255 Elm St. in Somerville,. Plays Thurs. thru Sun. through March 22. For more info go on-line to homesite of Flat Earth Theatre.

Robert Israel writes about theater, arts, culture and travel. Follow him on Twitter at @risrael1a.

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