Thursday, June 28, 2007


By Leonard Jacobs

My sixth-grade graduation photo, which I haven’t seen in years, is easy for me to recall because I was wearing my favorite jacket—a late-’70s checkered-green number that I hated growing out of. For ultra-sentimentalists like me, The Civilians’ Gone Missing makes you wonder why we hold on so tightly to certain objects, why we mourn the objects we lose or must part with. As an affectingly off-kilter sketch-and-song revue, Gone Missing sweeps you up in a tight, clearheaded embrace—one with a cynical view of nostalgia.

As in all of The Civilians’ pieces, Gone Missing is a joint effort; it was first presented in 2001 and seems to have been in a continuous state of revision and revisitation ever since. The writing is credited to chief Civilian Steve Cosson, based on interviews with real New Yorkers talking about things they have lost: an errant Gucci pump tucked into the secret flap of a handbag, a platinum necklace, a PalmPilot emptied out of a man’s hand during the WTC’s collapse. Other stories are considerably grislier, weirder and stranger: the once-rookie cop vividly describing the decomposing human body, the scientist’s theory of the lost continent of Atlantis, the sock doll retrieved from a garbage dump during an Iowa snowstorm, the war stories of a plucky pet psychic.

Six actors—Emily Ackerman, Damian Baldet, Jennifer R. Morris, Stephen Plunkett, Robbie Collier Sublett and Colleen Werthmann—play all the anonymous interviewees, and there is at times a bit of déjà vu. Yes, you have seen this kind of work before, whether in the United States Theater Project’s Columbinus or the Tectonic Theater Company’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and The Laramie Project.

The difference between those shows and Gone Missing, however, is those shows turned colossal events, like hate crimes and mass murder, into electrifying coups de theatre; it’s not the same thing to dramatize the loss of a ring or the loss of a sizable bequest from a dear 98-year-old uncle. Nor is it possible to raise the stakes quite the same way when the loss connects to the ineffable, intangible things we can never replace once lost: our virginity and dignity, our sense of values, self and hope.

This is why, aside from providing a divertissement from all the monologues and vignettes, the nine songs penned by Michael Friedman prove among the most insightful Gone Missing moments. Vocally, the six actors may be unevenly matched, but the overt messages contained in the songs are delivered with brash self-confidence and constant brio; Cosson’s stylized staging is what finally lifts the show fully out of the box. Strongly melodic, lyrically acid, songs like “The Only Thing Missing Is You,” “I Gave It Away,” “Lost Horizon” and “Etch a Sketch” take you out of that grim state of pondering you’ve fallen into, elevating your spirits as you begin to realize that that checkered-green jacket was really just a jacket—that it’s your memories you ought to be holding onto instead.