Thursday, June 28, 2007

Gone Missing

Barrow Street Theatre. Written and directed by Steven Cosson. Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. With ensemble cast. 1hr 15mins. No intermission.

One is at a loss, at first, to describe exactly what makes Gone Missing so unforgettable. Admittedly, many of the virtues of the Civilians’ philosophical vaudeville—an investigation of nostalgia from the inside out—are immediately apparent. The text of the play, mostly assembled by company demiurge Steven Cosson from interviews conducted by his troupe, is a lavishly suggestive collection of vignettes about misplaced objects and the displaced emotions that rise in their wake. This montage of ever-present absence is brought to sleek life onstage by a protean cast of six, all of whom deserve mention: Emily Ackerman, Damian Baldet, Jennifer R. Morris, Stephen Plunkett, Robbie Collier Sublett and Colleen Werthmann. And then there are the dazzling pastiche-makes-perfect songs of Michael Friedman, which span styles from German lieder to Tin Pan Alley, Buena Vista Social Club, Burt Bacharach and Suzanne Vega. (The gorgeous, Aimee Mann–ish “Lost Horizons” went straight to my head and the headphones of my iPod.)

Yet no mere catalog of the show’s selling points can do justice to its overall effect. Some of the stories involve the seemingly insignificant disappearance of small objects; others treat the loss of graver things like language, parts of dead bodies and, in Friedman’s songs, romantic attachment. These disparate tales are crafted into a mosaic whose abstract design is visible from afar, yet whose constituent parts retain their particularity. At once erudite and democratic, Gone Missing is not merely a witty, quick-footed and entertaining evening of theater; it is also a finely tuned inquiry into the nature of memory that manages to be forward-looking at the same time. Gone Missing’s links between past and present provide clear evidence of evolution in the world of modern theater. Miss it and weep.