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I was Most Alive With You

                                                                                 Photos by Joan Marcus

                                   By David Schultz

Playwright Craig Lucas (Small Tragedy, The Dying Gaul, Prelude to a Kiss) has quite a lot on his mind this time around. This modern variation on the biblical story of Job means to stir the heart and soul of the audience. For both believers and atheists this play is nothing short of gut wrenching in its impact. The large cast of fourteen actors fills the stage with enough drama for a ten part HBO mini series. Multiple tragedies and adversities come fast and furious in this dark undertaking. The structure of the play at the outset seems artificial as two creative artists discourse on what type of new and bold television series would prove to be groundbreaking with biblical overtones at its core. Ash (Michael Gaston), a 60ish recovering drug addict, with his 12-step program always in the back of his mind, is working furiously with his writing partner Astrid (Marianna Bassham) with their worn copy of The Book of Job thoroughly thumbed through, and highlighted. The play on various occasions circles back to this duo on their quest for a fully formed idea for the biblical slant on the story of Job. It slowly dawns on the audience that this scenario is a device, and is a snarky way into the story at hand. It proves to be a memory play that is written and rewritten in their minds, with the family that is revealed to us with a pervading sense of despair just lurking around the corner.

Ash’s son Knox (Russell Harvard) is deaf, gay, also a recovering alcoholic, sometime addict with a grand view of his condition “I’m grateful for my family…And for two, no, three things I used to think weren’t gifts at all: Deafness…Being Gay…Addiction…They are gifts…Each brought me more clarity.” This moment of sharing occurs during one of the early scenes during a Thanksgiving dinner at which we are introduced to the family, neighbors and lovers that inhabit this universe. Also in attendance are: Knox’s brash new boyfriend Farhad (Tad Cooley), also a recovering addict, Carla (Lois Smith) Ash’s mother who produces Ash’s television show and has doubts about his newest ideas for the additional TV series, Mariama (Gameela Wright) who is Carla’s full-time nurse and a Jehovah’s Witness with a son in jail, Pleasant (Lisa Emery) Ash’s distant and moody wife who is anything but what her name implies


Lois  Smith  (Carla),  Lisa  Emery  (Pleasant) 


This unruly group is doubled on stage with an aptly named “shadow” cast of seven actors who perform in sign language simultaneously with the speaking actors on a catwalk above the stage. They mirror the actors below in placement the spoken dialogue in graceful arcs of hand movement. The mezzanine level also serves as a way to view the subtitles that are strewn about onto the viewing areas to see what the deaf actors are saying in tandem with the actors below. Knox signs but can also speak, which he does mostly in the second act.

Russell  Harvard  (Knox),  Tad  Cooley  (Farhad),  Lisa  Emery  (Pleasant)

The philosophical ideas within the play are played out in ever more complex ways as the inevitable darkness descends on the main characters. Cancer, potential financial ruin, a devastating car crash, dismemberment, a slide back into the drug-induced state are awaiting these desperate souls. The events from that fateful Thanksgiving evening flash both forward and backward with jarring effect. This is one of those rare plays that beg for less critical description of plot to be divulged. Best to discover the moments of joy, shock, despair and epiphanies as they occur organically as the play evolves.

The malevolent God that hovers over this family is mocking them…perhaps, or giving them personal choices…. that subtext is left for viewers to discover on their own. Director Tyne Rafaeli manages to crystallize each moment with subtle scene changes and fluid pacing. Frequently many things go on at once onstage, but it never seems to be chaotic. Scenic designer Arnulfo Maldonado creates a unique visual space that, with gradations of lighting, lit by Annie Wiegand, transport the viewer to each location without changing the actual setting. The stage morphs into each new space with a minimum of activity. The foreboding music (Jane Shaw) that swells to unbearable decibels in the second act raises the hair on your head in anticipation of the inevitable denouement. But yet one is not sure of that exactly…. This devastating coda is then circled back to a memory of what did…or did not yet happen. I Was Most Alive With You has a lingering sense of potential hope, and potential release, at the moment of darkest despair.              


I Was Most Alive With You

Playing at Playwrights Horizons    Mainstage Theater

416 West 42nd Street


Playing through October 14th 2018