THE VALLEY OF ASTONISHMENT
September 19, 2014
Most people these days fear the loss of their memory. Characters in Peter Brook and Marie-Helene Estienne’s “The Valley of Astonishment” juggle memories that paste themselves forever on the walls of the subjects’ brains.
When Sammy Costas’ (Kathryn Hunter) boss (Jared McNeill in multiple roles) realizes she never takes notes because of her perfect memory, he sends her to a couple of brain researchers. Their studies try to gauge the brain’s complexities and map cognitive incongruities.
Always remarkable in whatever role she assumes, Ms. Hunter’s slight body covered in black, her brown hair pulled back never thought of herself as unusual, because her memory has always worked the same way. Words and numbers don’t just hang in the air, they are attached to walls or streets; they form stories that can be recalled in a snap.
Others who are touched by memory and cognitive incongruities is a painter (McNeill) who converts jazz notes into colors which he paints in large swathes on an oversized floor - canvas. Then there’s the man (Magni) who can make his paralyzed legs work by looking at this feet and willing them forward.
Of course, a twist comes when Costas joins a vaudeville style group that stars people who amaze audiences with their ultra extraordinary gifts. She entertains people with her total recall of lists of words. But her brain becomes so full of images she can’t continue the sensory overload. It’s a truly touching moment. Complementing the dramatic action, are two gifted musicians Raphael Chambouvet and Toshi Tsuchitori seated in the back corner.
However, don’t think it’s all scientific theory and list after list of words and numbers because Brooks and Estienne shoot pathos and humor into the absurdity of these exceptional people.
And be forewarned, audience members at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center are pulled up on stage to play card games and wonder about the mind and eyes’ ability to play tricks. Presented by Theater for a New Audience, “The Valley of Astonishment” will stick to the skin of your mind.
EYE ON THE ARTS, N Y-- Celia Ipiotis