UNDONE: Theatre of Reality

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Review by Sander Gusinow

Undone,’ written and directed by Infusion Art’s Beth Newbery, walks into the depraved world of sex trafficking. Our underworld guide comes in the form of Anna, an Appalachian girl forced into slavery at the age of seventeen. Set on the last day of Anna’s job at a hair salon, (she’s set to open her own business tomorrow) Anna recounts her traumatic experience to her friends. Over the course of the show, she lapses into hallucinations of talk-show fantasy, and grim flashbacks of her dehumanizing past.

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Jessie Fahay, an artistic crusader in her own right, tackles the character of Anna with sanguine intensity. A character with a mind polluted by years of abuse, Anna is at once pitiable and arresting. It’s a role that would have been easily botched by a lesser performer, but Fahay’s Anna powers through, and delivers perhaps the most merciless sequence I’ve ever seen in a one-person show. Fahay’s dedication to Anna would be enough for a riveting, emotional hour, but for whatever reason, Writer/Director Beth Newbery doesn’t seem to think so.

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The play is mired by Newbery’s decision to write in inconsistent fragments. It’s a high-risk, low-reward endeavor. Anna is forced to pontificate on her childhood far too often. There is an over-reliance on projection, and most upsetting of all, Anna doesn’t even come close to to finishing her odyssey. She describes (quite stunningly) her first instance of rape as a sex slave, but then she’s right back in the hair salon, with nary another word about what occurred during her years of bondage, or how she even escaped. (if she even escaped. The ending suggests perhaps she’s hallucinating the entire show) The script bewilders when it ought to brutalize. In a play with subject matter as critically prescient as this, it’s a gamble one can ill afford.

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The show does not place enough trust in the performer. Jessie Fahay is an actress more than capable of electricity. I can only hope some slicing, dicing, and smoothing out is in order before the show moves on to Theatre Row come this February. A play like this has the potential to break an audience with harsh reality. In a time when theatregoers are too often lulled to sleep by flippant poetics, I can’t think of a goal any more worthwhile.

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