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Theater review by Helen Shaw
When the door to a theater closes, the rest of the world usually stays outside. But in Crystal Skillman’s sensitive solo show Open, written for and performed by Megan Hill, everything penetrates. It’s a credit to sound designer Emma Wilk that we’re never sure how much of the leakage is intentional: She so perfectly sculpts the sonic environment—at one point I could swear I heard the person next to me catch an invisible ball—that we can’t be sure if the siren whining in the distance is an effect or the real thing. Perhaps it is both? Skillman’s monologue is, after all, about emergencies and the way they can destroy any refuge.
Hill, a vivid and warm performer, plays the Magician, who quickly lets us know that she hasn’t quite earned her top hat and velvet coat. She’s really just a writer called Kristen: a young woman in New York with a job at a copy store. Her tricks are merely sound-design assisted mime and pleading smiles, but the audience, caught in a mysterious limbo with her, is happy to suspend disbelief at her request. Kristen is trying to make something out of nothing, to summon a magic show as a gift to her deeply beloved girlfriend, Jenny. Only slowly do we learn why the unseen Jenny—who pulled the Magician out of the closet like a rabbit out of a hat—needs distraction: why she never responds, why we hear hospital-room beeping, why the Magician is shaking and crying.
The play feels long at 75 minutes, because the central metaphor wears out too soon. But the depth of Hill’s commitment keeps reawakening the pathos. The magic in Open is all pretend, but the violence Skillman refers to is brutally real. It is, of course, a coincidence that two women on a London bus were recently assaulted in a homophobic hate crime; it can’t have been Open’s intention that you think of their bloodied faces while you watch the show. But that’s another way that the world outside keeps making itself felt onstage. “We’re in New York!,” you might think. “In a theater! In a month devoted to Pride!” Don’t let your guard down, Open says. Safety is the flimsiest illusion of all.
The Tank (Off-Off Broadway). By Crystal Skillman. Directed by Jessi D. Hill. With Megan Hill. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.