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Off Broadway Reviews


Theatre Review by Kimberly Ramirez - November 20, 2022

Jud Meyers
Photo by Alyssa Neely
The very title of this play, written and directed by Kotryna Gesait, suggests a protective enclosure, confined isolation, transformation. So spectators might expect to be ushered toward the on-stage rows of folding chairs converting Gene Frankel Theatre's already intimate house into a thrust arrangement surrounding a smaller acting area. Some seats appear wrapped in cloth chrysalises of their own. Longer expanses of the same material swathe the small grid above. Lighting instruments peeking through; bold green hues wash over the space. Ethereal preshow music gives way to a voice warning that actors may talk to you, signaling that this show is trying very hard to create an immersive experience.

Four vignettes unfold, cycling through themes of attraction, dependency, devotion, infatuation. Expressive monologuist Helen Farmer addresses the audience as "Unrequited" to chronicle a crush she developed on a man she met at a party. Hoping he's "the one," an attachment impulse she blames on "Fucking Disney," she delivers painstaking, past-tense narration: "I Googled 'how to make him love you'" and "tried to be my very best self" yet "he didn't want me...I wanted him so much...didn't he realize the worlds he destroyed by not wanting me." Regenerating through a neverending "maze" of "roads" and "spirals"–directional metaphors that may have inspired set designer Chantal Marks's fabric festoons overhead–Unrequited suggests a "to be continued" plot "over many lifetimes throughout many bodies. I was destined to meet him again, just as I had met him before." This rebirth/reincarnation motif threads through Cocoon, aiming to connect its characters.

Farmer takes a front row seat (hereafter modeling hyper-engaged, immersive spectatorship) as "He" and "She" dramatize a contextless conflict defined by codependency. "I need to find safety without you again" declares "She" to "He." Gesait scripts inquiries declaratively, alternating dialogue with direct address: "When did I endow him with the role of protector. And why," is an aside at us, but "He" hears and responds, "I want to protect her. I don't know why..." When the couple finally finds the courage to disconnect, "He" and "She" fly free from their dysfunctional cocoon into other designated seats in the audience.

The third and most viable vignette, passionately performed by Jud Meyers as "Re-Lover," is addressed to an unseen partner: "You told me, you always knew it wasn't right for you. That body, that voice." Re-Lover recounts a three-year progression toward his partner's gender confirmation surgery, distilling a dynamic dialogic backstory into monologuic reportage: "What about me. Am I wrong too. No you said you are right, we are right, and I want to be right too." The dramatic conceit of addressing his partner and never the audience suggests a confession and catharsis as his doubts are replaced by renewed, intensified devotion: "We were right in a way that transcended time and matter. I closed my eyes and imagined us dying and being reborn in different bodies and finding one another every time." Cue the final vignette!

The morning after a one night stand, two women, "Infatuant 1" (Melinda Nanovsky) and "Infatuant 2" (Erin Margaret Pettigrew), swap insights as "millennials," impulsively divulging declarations of love and family planning. Their hasty commitment [insert U-Haul lesbian stereotype here] is restrained by self-consciousness more than caution. When they perceive they've gone too far, this potential couple self-castigates with spoken inner monologue: "I love you. (Oh god. What. You were doing so well)." Awkward.

This 75-minute performance is an exhausting exercise for actors trying to activate passive, prolix speech. Nadav Rayman's soundscape is transcendent but cued to prove redundant and intrusive, as when it crescendos to emphasize already melodramatic moments. Frenetic, unmotivated movement and gratuitous gestures (i.e., emphatic head nods) implore audience members to react or respond. Similarly, the heavy-handed direction literalizes narrative descriptions, as when Unrequited sinks into the ground under a harsh white downlight while telling us of a time when "I walked into my house and sunk into the ground" or when a shift in lighting simulates Re-Lover's recollection of "a ray of sun hit the one tear drop...I watched the rainbow lights..." with exactly that.

Aspiring toward loftiness, the script stays steeped in clichés (we fall for more than one "smile" and fit together as multiple "puzzles") replete with pop culture references (Titanic, Inception, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Aladdin...). While disparaging Disney, Cocoon does little to reverse the sorts of fossilized fantasies that keep lovers grasping at illusions. If you do not find yourself transformed by the intimate, immersive experience offered by Cocoon, you may still emerge in flight, with a renewed sense of freedom.

Through December 16, 2022
Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street, New York, NY, USA
Tickets online and current performance schedule: