Summerworks Festival

Critics' pick
Photograph: Heather Phelps-Lipton

From last year:

The Wild Project (see Off-Off Broadway)

Summerworks Festival synopsis

Clubbed Thumb continues its new-works festival, one of the best ways to see which local playwrights have had their digits whacked with the talent hammer. The productions include Clare Barron's Baby Screams Miracle, Jen Silverman's Phoebe in Winter and Gregory S. Moss's La Brea.

Theater review by Helen Shaw. Summerworks Festival: Baby Screams Miracle. By Clare Barron. Dir. Portia Krieger. With ensemble cast. 1hr 35mins. No intermission.

If I just describe Clare Barron's Baby Screams Miracle, a funny enviro-horror domestic drama, I worry that you might get the wrong impression. In fact, my own affection keeps teetering to and away from it—the hallmark of a genuinely fragile, complex piece of work.

In rudest outline, the piece is about a storm laying siege to a religious family. Barron juxtaposes the language of Christian certainty (“Jesus came into my heart?” “Yup, all you have to do is ask!”) with a rampaging torrent of natural chaos. The theme put my hackles on alert: Was the author launching an easy, Americans-are-morons attack on spirituality? Yes and no. Miracle plays on several strings at once—so while Barron does mock magical thinking (pro tip: Do not tell a child that Jesus will protect her from a tornado), she also writes searching scenes about the terror underlying our little lives. Wry about religion, the play is nonetheless in contact with it, a hymn to the great god Accident.

We meet Gabriel (Danny Wolohan) and pregnant Carol (Danielle Skraastad) as they prepare for bed on Daniel Zimmerman's cozy, wood-timbered set—their evening ritual of prayer and botched chamomile tea painting a picture of earnest, slightly bumbling lives. Their timid five-year-old, Kayden (Ismenia Mendes), hunkers down with grandma Barbara (Caitlin O'Connell) as the wind rises outside, but really, what harm could it do? Gabriel and Carol's estranged, angry, pregnant daughter, Cynthia (the biblically named Susannah Flood), arrives to help, only to be stranded alongside them. And in short order, branches punch through the ceiling, garbage blows through the windows, a deer crashes into their car to fatally puncture their dog. As the storm rages, we realize disaster camaraderie has its own eternal dramaturgy: Noah's family may also have stayed up all night reminiscing about drier days, though they probably told fewer dirty stories about pickles.

Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks Festival has yet again found a play that no one else could produce: something odd and carefully made and disorienting. Barron has drawn wonderfully paradoxical characters, particularly Carol (a masochist who hates to be criticized) and Cynthia (a narcissist trying to be generous). But these destabilizing elements only increase our alienation; we're not drawn to them. Rather, by play's end, even the women's pregnant bellies seem frightening. Exquisitely rendered by Portia Krieger's production, the weather-minded Miracle functions atmospherically, establishing a sense of ongoing, endless menace. It's ruthlessly clever at taking us into the eye of the storm, which may be why I stumbled out afterward—not full of joy or grief, but certainly feeling like I hadn't breathed in ages.—Theater review by Helen Shaw

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Event phone: 212-352-3101
Event website: http://clubbedthumb.org
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