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Gone Missing

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Gone Missing
Emily Ackerman, Stephen Plunkett, Colleen Werthmann, Jennifer R. Morris, Robbie Collier Sublett, and Damian Baldet
Photo by Sheldon Noland.

There’s an old riddle that goes something like this: Why is something you’ve lost always in the last place you look? Because after you find it, you stop looking. On one level, it couldn’t be more true, but often the pain of loss continues to sting long after the misplaced item has been recovered. And if you locate whatever it is you’re looking for? Forget about it, you’re gone.

Well, maybe. If you’ve given up on uncovering intriguing, adventurous musicals - and after most of the past season, who could blame you? - you don’t have much to worry about from Gone Missing. A resuscitation of a 2001 project from The Civilians, an enterprising music-theatre troupe that explores the vagaries of the human psyche the way some companies tackle Shakespeare, this production at the Barrow Street Theatre is something you can lose yourself in, if you’re in the right state of mind.

That state, however, shouldn’t include a hankering for an old-time “book show” or even revue; Gone Missing occupies a more indefinable middle ground. All its speeches and sketches (based by writer-director Steven Cosson on interviews conducted by the acting company) and songs (by Michael Friedman) concern things we lose and sometimes recover, without coalescing into a rigidly structured evening of moralistic or coy pronouncements. Our tendency to grieve over keys, shoes, jewelry, and loved ones is a given. It’s what else fills in the blanks that matters.

A police officer muses humorously on the various states in which he discovers dead human bodies. A short-tempered Los Angeles woman goes to extreme lengths to track down a black Gucci pump that vanished one night she was visiting Manhattan. A frantic New York man is separated from his cell phone. A doctor on a radio call-in show draws increasingly absurd connections between Freud, Atlantis, and the Sargasso Sea in his deconstruction of nostalgia. Pets, stuffed animals, photographs, and of course virginity merit the occasional mention.

The adept seven-person cast - Emily Ackerman, Damian Baldet, Jennifer R. Morris (spelled by Caitlin Miller at the performance I attended), Stephen Plunkett, Robbie Collier Sublett, and Colleen Werthmann - is even outfitted (by costumer Sarah Beers) in harsh, angular business suits that lend an air of stern authority. The actors’ clipped deliveries, and the clever, robotic choreography (by Jim Augustine), set the tone of the human race as a mechanical one against which the tiniest disruptions can have major, life-changing effects.

The men, who more readily step away from the overriding austerity of the evening, make for slightly more involving segments than the more-disconnected women. But they all act, sing, and dance evocatively, creating from the various disjointed pieces a mostly engrossing collage of stories and fading memories, with perhaps a bit of fantasy thrown in for good measure.

Aside from the title song, an unrelentingly catchy tour through the losses we all experience over the course of a life, the score is mostly a missed opportunity. Comprising pastiches of 30s torch, Mariachi, Lieder, and even a modern ballad or two, the songs generally exist in a world of their own. They’re strong enough on their own terms, but neither they nor the book evince any particular affection for each other; the musical numbers tend to restate what’s already been said (or what’s about to be said) in dialogue. This makes the evening, which is only 75 minutes in length, feel a bit bloated.

But just a bit. The stories are fascinating glimpses into the human mind, and even when Gone Missing strays a bit it still provides enough significant, thoughtful entertainment to make the show as a whole quite an impressive find.


Gone Missing
Through August 5
Barrow Street Theater, 27 Barrow Street at 7th Avenue; 1 block south of Christopher Street
Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge