“Yes I said yes I will yes,” reads Joyce’s Ulysses, and it ought to continue with, “see Sheila Callaghan’s new play Dead City.” Callaghan’s work is inspired by Joyce, but not so much in plot as in the telling: a one-day account of Samantha Blossom’s (get it?) life and her fated encounters with Jewel, a starving poet. With a set of earthy revolving walls and a projector screen, director Daniella Topol flings open Callaghan’s already loose words, and for a hundred minutes, the city becomes like an oyster filled with infinite pearls.
Through a series of encounters in various Manhattan locales (like The Strand), Dead City traces the everyday struggle to feel like one exists. The internal creeps into the physical, which is where we see echoes of Joyce (though Callaghan’s beautiful language is her own). One minute, Samantha is catching up with an old friend, the next, that friend is asking about Samantha’s dead son. At a massage parlor, two masseuses are suddenly grilling her about the affair she’s contemplating with her postmodern online beau. Later, her thoughts project across the wall in a multimedia frenzy of stream-of-consciousness, and, in a dream sequence, as animation. For all the surreal tactics and alternative forms of expression—like a flying taxi—none of this seems out of place; Callaghan has created a fluid, lyrical world that riffs on reality as if it were jazz (which, if it’s not, should be).
To accommodate the myriad characters, Dead City presses an ensemble of five to the limit, casting each in at least three roles. Some are clearer than others (like the endlessly talented Rebecca Hart), and some are more versatile (like Alfredo Narciso), but the whole ensemble reeks of talent. Outside the ensemble, Elizabeth Norment (Samantha) centers and uncenters the show with her brilliant mental oscillations, while April Matthis (Jewel) grows more genuine by the minute.
Save for a humorous funeral, there’s nothing dead in Dead City; this sweeping production revitalizes an art form that prefers to imitate. This is the real McCoy, illusions and all, and like Ulysses, should soon fit the oxymoronic bill of a modern classic.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.