Friday, September 15, 2006

'Gone Missing' offers humor, heartache

by Judith Egerton

You can lose your cool, your keys, a single size-6 Gucci pump. You can lose your cat, your gold teeth or even your mind.

Why are we attached to certain objects? What makes the loss of a treasured heirloom linger in the memory? And conversely, what would life be like if we lost the ability to remember our favorite things -- and the people and experiences they evoke?

With sanguine humor and original songs and music, The Civilians of New York City go looking for answers in "Gone Missing," a 90-minute show now playing in the snug Victor Jory Theatre at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

The Civilians, led by Steven Cosson, created the theater piece after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Intrigued by thoughts concerning loss and memory, the company interviewed fellow New Yorkers to collect personal accounts of lost items. From those stories, they constructed a series of monologues that they tell with an astounding array of accents reflecting the city's diversity.

Wearing suits and ties of muted colors, the six Civilians perform individually and as an ensemble. They are as polished on stage alone as they are as whole.

In the small, 150-seat Victor Jory, the actors (Emily Ackerman, Matthew Maher, Jennifer R. Morris, Stephen Plunkett, Robbie Collier Sublett and Alison Weller) speak directly to the audience as they tell about losing items, such as a favorite scarf, and more serious things, such as a job, a husband and an inheritance.

One character imagines that a beautiful scarf she left in a cab is now "balled up" in someone's SUV with a cat sitting on it -- no longer hers and no longer appreciated. Three women speak of feeling heartsick over losing rings that symbolize relationships, and the men join together in a rousing and funny "La Bodega" number.

Michael Friedman's songs include ballads, such as "The Only Thing Missing Is You" by Ackerman, and a tough-love tune, "I Gave It Away," about getting rid of an ex's possessions after a breakup. The ensemble was accompanied by able music director John D. Zehnder, who breezily moved through the show's eight songs.

Morris, a former Actors Theatre intern, reveals a winning versatility in her ability to morph from character to character. Particularly amusing was her tough-talking Queens native whose job -- and mission -- was to persuade obsessive-compulsives to let go of found objects.

Although Plato and Freud are mentioned, the production doesn't dig too deep, and that's a shame. It's as if "Gone Missing" is just missing something that would help us more fully understand the nature of loss.

Understandably, The Civilians chose not to focus their piece on the human losses suffered on Sept. 11, 2001, yet they haunt the show. Perhaps, as we learn from a heartbroken character in "Gone Missing," some losses are so painful that even words go missing.