Theater review by Helen Shaw
A woman runs from the Syrian police, feet churning under her, face stricken. A man stands holding a camera, pointing it at the sea as migrants drown just an arm’s length away. The intertwining and eventually converging monologues of Henry Naylor’s Borders tell the story of Nameless (Avital Lvova) and Simon (Graham O’Mara) as each of them crashes against the limitations of art: Nameless as a graffiti artist protesting the regime of Bashar Hafez al-Assad, Simon as a photographer who begins to turn away from the suffering of others.
Borders was a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, and directors Louise Skaaning and Michael Cabot have given it the fleetness and stripped-down aesthetic of something made to scramble from venue to venue. But the show might play better amid the hurly-burly of a festival, where its seriousness could cut against the comedy acts all around it. In its current iteration at the NYTW Next Door space, it’s not entirely effective; it feels lopsided and, strangely for a touring show, a little unfinished.
Naylor is best at writing for Nameless, perhaps because the character was purpose-built for Lvova, a powder-keg performer. Her monologues—which touch on subjects including her mother’s prayers, a boyfriend’s shy sweetness and the tacky sensation of spilled paint under her sneakers—shine with detail and moral complexity, and Lvova rockets around the tiny space, spitting fire. But Simon’s side of things is duller: He springboards from taking a picture of Osama bin Laden to a golden career of shooting celebrities, and Naylor uses this unlikely story to strike at artists interested in pop culture. A program note makes it clear that the playwright gave up his own 20-year career in satirical-television writing because it struck him as decadent in light of more life-and-death issues. No wonder, then, that Simon seems both overwritten (he keeps bumping into deeply symbolic wood lice, which he sees as signs of ethical rot) and underthought. Simon is the author’s attempt at self-portrait, but it’s hard to look at yourself and write at the same time. Despite Naylor’s best intentions, the perspective is off, which skews half of his elsewise carefully painted picture.
4th Street Theatre (Off-Off Broadway). By Henry Naylor. Directed by Louise Skaaning and Michael Cabot. With Avital Lvova and Graham O’Mara. Running time: 1hr 10mins. No intermission.