TimeSlips, the new play at HERE, originated not solely from the mind of one playwright, but from the minds of a group of people who had almost anything else on their minds. The result of this unusual method of storytelling is fascinating at first, but ultimately unfulfilling.
Anne Basting developed a method of collaborative storytelling as a way of helping people suffering from Alzheimers Disease. Each member of a group of people would suggest certain elements of a story, all of which would be woven together in one tale. So, instead of trying to remember details of their own life, they instead drew on elements of their own imagination as a way to better connect with others and themselves.
The play, which is based on some of these stories and compiled and written by Basting, begins with a facilitator (Hope Clarke) assembling a group of five people and drawing them into telling a story. As the story begins and unravels, each of the patients plays one of the characters: There's a man who always has his nose buried in a pile of books (John Freimann), a singing cowboy (Michael Shelle), his trusty horse (Sheriden Thomas), a champion swimmer (Judith Van Buren), and a French dancer (Jodie Lynne McClintock). The characters may occasionally meet and interact, but generally their individual stories are separate.
The concept itself is generally very clear, and never hard to follow, but the nature of the play itself tends to present problems dramatically; the play is perhaps too authentic in some ways. There is also, of course, no real narrative, as the stories overlap and intertangle almost randomly. While there is some sense of a dramatic arc, it is only occasionally present, and never particularly strong.
There's no question what Basting was trying to accomplish, but ultimately, the problem with TimeSlips is that what might be particularly significant or moving in one of the storytelling sessions doesn't necessarily work onstage. You may want to become frustrated with the show and its repetitiveness, but deep down, if the events of the play made sense, the play itself wouldn't make sense, and this paradox hurts the play.
On one level, however, Basting did succeed. Director Christopher Bayes complements her work nicely, and has concocted an appropriately fractured atmosphere. Events and characters appear and disappear continuously, and David Korins has provided a surprisingly complex set that both grounds the play in reality and lets it escape into imagination.
The actors are all very game, and are particularly good at portraying the contrasts between the patients and the characters they invent. Van Buren, Thomas, and McClintock are probably the strongest and the most defined, and seem to be having the most fun. Shelle and Freimann have less to play in the story itself and generally come across as fairly one-note. Clarke, as the facilitator, has very little to do, but does decently with it.
After every performance of TimeSlips, there is a brief discussion period conducted by a guest facilitator. You may find that as enlightening as the play itself, if not more so; the perspective it provides and the details of the play and the TimeSlips Project that come to the surface may help you gain a greater understanding of the play. From what is onstage, it's obvious how much Basting cares about her work and the people she helps, but, unfortunately, that isn't always enough.
TimeSlips Project New York and Paul Lucas present