January 17, 2016
Theater and film actress Susanne Sulby takes over the stage at Theatre Row’s Lion Theatre in her one woman play journeying through the plight of many. This new work, entitled “Sanctuary,” comes to New York following performances at the Edinburge Fringe and Capital Fringe Festivals.
This play is one Sulby has been working on for years, inspired by her emotional response to the Serbo-Croatian conflict of the 1990‘s as well as 9/11. It draws from her personal experience grappling with the horror occuring worldwide and the relateable sense of helplessness she felt as a “passive participant,” observing from the safety of her Pennsylvania home.
The complex montage that is “Sanctuary,” spans decades of global conflicts and tragedies, traveling throughout Kosovo, Sudan, Japan, Arghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Italy, Germany, Vietnam, London, Russia, Nigeria, the United States in a mere 80 minutes. If the sheer volume and power of the content wasn’t enough, further poignant is the fact that much of the loaded script is pulled from actual emails from soldiers in Iraq, letters from mothers, TV news footage, Rumi and WWI poetry, and conversations Sulby had with her own son.
Throughout, Sulby evolves into numerous female figures, all affected by global confict differently – observer, victimin, mother, wife. At times she is the wine-sipping, somewhat frazzled, suburban housewife who is taken aback at her peers’ reluctance to acknowledge that happening in the world. She thinks of the soldier to whom she is sending packages and exchanging letters. “ I’m not a liberal. I’m not a conservative. I’m a human and I want this guy to come back alive,” she reflects.
Moments later she becomes a TV news reporter, inspired by CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour. As such, she notes the irony of being driven to the scene and horror, only to be taken back to her hotel. Then, suddenly, she is a tortured prisoner of war in Kosovo, desperately reassuring herself, “I am not here. I am far away.”
Directed by Stephen Stahl, the work has a largely minimalist production value, smartly balancing the intensity of the subject matter. Scenery – a kitchen setting, framed by rock walls – is designed by Peter Tupitza, costumes by Heather Stanley, and lights by Ryan J. O'Gara. Most compelling is the projection design by by Olivia Sebesky, which includes some actual news footage in addition to more abstract imagery during transitional moments.
The audience is intentionally left with a lingering sense of, “What can I do?” – a question asked aloud in the play. “Sanctuary” certainly succeeds at challenging perspective and touching on the human experience in a confrontational way.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson