David McGee’s Mare Cognitum, an ostensible story about three idealists who decide to fly to the moon, considers the notion of change. Each of the characters represents an ideology that is presented and then juxtaposed to the audience. Despite the silliness of the premise, Mare Cognitum successfully inspires thought about the best way to effect change in society.
Reviewed by Nicole C. Lee
Set in a country on the brink of warfare and bombings, the plot is simple enough to follow: three roommates seek to join a public protest against the impending war. Their procrastination leads them to miss the protest, so when the bombings begin, two of them decide to take action by heading to the moon. What playwright David McGee seeks to provoke is more difficult to comprehend: the nature of protests, the most effective method to enact change, and the notion of self-deception.
To help us understand, Mare Cognitum presents us with three characters and three distinct philosophies. Jeff (Kyle Walters) stands in his apartment with a sign that reads “Homo sapiens sapiens” as a protest takes place outside his building. As much as he believes in the basic human rights and nonviolence they’re fighting for, he is against mob mentality. His idealism also shows an element of harsh reality: nonviolent protests only work when violence occurs, so the protesters must be willing to die for what they believe in (like Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mahatma Gandhi). How can he support the sort of protest that requires permission to assemble from the very government it is protesting? At times Walters portrays Jeff as opinionated and passionate. Yet there are also moments when Jeff is inexplicably stolid and apathetic in solitude.
Lena (Devon Caraway) resides on the opposite side of Jeff’s philosophy. She is the impassioned supporter of protests, claiming the world is huge and people should act accordingly. At first, she supports the use of protests as the only means of discouraging war and enacting change. Later she runs to a Catholic congregation, listens to a choir, prays, and experiences what she claims is an epiphany. When she learns the bombings have begun, undeterred, she becomes dejected and suggests escaping to the moon: to do something is to do something good. Caraway supplies her character with energy that propels the plot; she first suggests joining the protest and then suggests escaping to the moon. Yet her performance was somewhat marred by the lack of vocal projection during moments of the show.
Thomas (Justin Howard) is more difficult to understand. He is first introduced to the audience as someone who has just experienced an odd job interview. As he re-enacts the interview, he reveals he was actually confessing to a priest and has been doing so for the past eight months. Throughout his “interview,” he explains that the notion of God is problematic because it perpetuates the notion that God will eventually “fix” the world’s problems, taking away the responsibility of people to do it for themselves. As Jeff and Lena initiate an escape to the moon, Thomas is skeptical and unwilling to participate. Finally, Thomas hears his phone ring and the charade comes to an abrupt halt. Jeff and Lena realize they have “returned” to their apartment. At this point, it appears the trip to the moon was a delusion concocted by Lena and Jeff to escape their current situation. When Lena and Thomas leave Jeff alone in the apartment, there is no resolution and the audience is left to wonder what just happened and why.
The play’s setting draws real-world comparisons: the United States is currently experiencing an economic recession, and is arguably still at war abroad. Director Jesse Edward Rosbrow puts together a decent production that is thought provoking, yet it is still unclear by the play’s end what the audience should come away with. Protests have been organized over the years, yet the situation remains the same. The audience may question whether Jeff and Lena were deluded enough to believe they had successfully arrived on the moon, yet the real question seems to be: what other options are available to a person when all hope is lost?
Mare Cognitum (90 minutes, no intermission)
The Workshop Theater (312 W 36th Street, 4th floor)
Tickets (http://www.brownpapertickets.com): $12
Performances: through 5/30
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