I thought I would die but I didn't
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Theater review by Helen Shaw
The level of control in Bailey Williams’s exquisite I thought I would die but I didn’t isn’t apparent at first. In the play’s bizarre initial scenes, things actually seem pretty loosey-goosey. A shut-in young woman (Williams, in supersad sweatpants) lives in an existentially porous apartment, crunching on aspirin and wondering where the kitchen went. Wasn’t it there a minute ago? And what about the TV? She could swear she was just watching Law & Order. Her roommate (a superb Matthew Bovee) steps directly through the wall—a stretchy white membrane that lets whole couches slide in and out—and a freaky neighbor (Yonatan Gebeyehu) tries to get her interested in balloons. Their language is formal and stilted: “Welcome home to our shared apartment!” she cries, as a smiling Bovee pops into view.
This beginning has the kind of oddness you might feel you’ve seen before; even the air of menace is familiar. A number of High Weird plays rev their engines by referring to a mysterious event in the past—something no one wants to talk about. (Hauntings are big now; ditto for weird shrieks.) But then the play smash-cuts into another style, and the stylization of Sarah Blush’s direction leans farther into the strange. Suddenly we’re in a true-crime documentary about a violent murder, rendered with the idiotic portentousness of the genre’s most lurid examples. Bovee is our host; Williams is an expert witness; Gebeyehu is all the other figures at once. Another smash cut finds us in a different, related, more naturalistic realm (actor Luis Vega has a virtuosic turn), and a final sequence unwinds the mystery. Each of these brief episodes leaves you less, rather than more, prepared for the one to follow—they function as a meticulous disarticulation of your mental defenses. I thought I would die but I didn’t uses surreality to prop open the doors of your mind so that Williams’s truth, which has been delayed and delayed, runs roughshod over you. It’s goofy until it’s devastating—and it’s devastating for days.
The Tank (Off-Off Broadway). By Bailey Williams. Directed by Sarah Blush. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.