Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Playwright Heather McDonald provides bits of context for the actionin the parlance of art conservator Layla (Holly Twyford), random brush strokesbut leaves the viewer to create the full picture. James Kronzer's scenic design depicts the ruins of a museum of art and antiquities after a century-long war has devastated the world, with broken sculptures lying on the floor and piles of rubble throughout. (Kronzer brings the audience into the setting with pitting and scarring in the walks behind the seating areas, and there's a reason why the ushers hold umbrellas.)
At first, Layla speaks professionally about the need to retain the great works that reveal "the very heritage of our humanity." Is human survival sufficient, she asks, without the emblematic works of beauty and reverence created by visionaries throughout the ages, even (or especially) if the works have been damaged and repaired?
Director Nadia Tass understands how things can change in an instant, and time seems to break as the museum turns into a prisonbut also a refuge from the climate-based and other "natural" disasters ravaging the landscape. A stern soldier, Mitra (Felicia Curry), feels contempt for Layla's education and privileged place in society, but she needs Layla's help. With the assistance of Nadia (Yesenia Iglesias), a hijab-wearing nurse, Layla must restore a priceless painting by Rembrandt that has somehow survived the war.
Early on, Layla asks the audience what they would save if their homes were on fire. That's also the way all three women, from their vastly different perspectives, hold onto their previous lives. They recall their loving parents and lost children, the walks they took through city and country before the two catastrophic floods, the month of daily lightning storms, and the mourning doves falling from the sky.
Twyford creates another indelible character, a woman who experiences despair but, through her love of beauty and light, manages to keep going. Curry shows how Mitra's ferocity comes from a need to prove herself, while Iglesias brings out the hidden strength behind Nadia's gentleness.
The entire 80-minute production is often a sensory assault with the random flashes in Sherrice Mojgani's lighting design, Zachary G. Borovay's disorienting projections, and James Bigbee Garver's sound design and original music. Audiences who stay with it will see the beauty that perseveres among the brutality.