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Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Nathan Richard Wagner, Jessica Ranville and Cast Members.
Photo by Alan Roche.
Believe everything she says. Believe nothing she says. Got it? Good. You are now are ready to enter the world of Blessed Unrest's exuberant and frequently galvanizing production of Lying, a play adapted by company co-founder Matt Opatrny from the "metaphorical memoir" of the same title by psychologist and author Lauren Slater.

Meet Lauren (Jessica Ranville), who at the outset swears she will be telling her story "as truthfully as I know how." In this case, "truth" should be thought of as a very flexible concept as Lauren narrates her story from the time of her childhood struggles with epilepsy to her later sexual exploits and experiences as a gifted writer.

The two-hour production, on view at the Interart Theatre, is divided in half, just like the platform stage that has been simply but ingeniously designed by Neal Wilkinson to represent—among other things—the two hemispheres of Lauren's brain, surgically split in order to control her epileptic seizures.

Much of the first half of the play focuses on her neurological disorder. But it also deals with the rocky relationship with her mother, who is both distancing and overbearing. It is from her mother—who casually changes her own biography as it suits her purposes—that Lauren has learned "what you wish is every bit as real as what you are," a philosophy she embraces with enthusiasm.

The second half of the play depicts Lauren's gradual disintegration, through her unbridled sexual relationship with an older author she connects with at a writer's retreat, her interactions with members of the medical community, and her spontaneous participation with an Alcoholics Anonymous group (although she is not a drinker). Since Lauren is truly an unreliable narrator of her own life story, it is left entirely in our hands to analyze her motivation and her psychological state.

Under Jessica Burr's well-wrought and well-choreographed direction, Lying is an actor's tour de force. Ms. Ranville is onstage virtually the entire time and is called upon to make the journey from a clever and precocious child to a young woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The rest of the cast members (Charise Greene, Nathan Richard Wagner, Sonia Villani, and Rich Brown) play multiple and frequently-changing roles, and they display the inventive nimbleness of a highly skilled improvisational troupe. At times, three of them will simultaneously perform as Lauren's mother, or portray her classmates, or nuns (Lauren is Jewish, but nuns, and even Jesus, become integral to her story). There is also a great deal of physical strength involved, as the cast members heave around removable sections of the platform stage, or simulate sex acts while doing backward push-ups, or hang from the rafters while reciting their lines.

The work of Blessed Unrest is always intelligent, exciting, and experimental, yet always well rehearsed so that the results are highly polished and professional. With Lying, the company can take pride in adding another solid work to its repertoire.

Through November 3
The Interart Theatre, 500 West 52nd Street, just west of 10th Avenue
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule:

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