Arts

Review: ‘The Body’s Midnight’ Leaves an Imprinted Memory at Boston Court Pasadena

(L-R) Sonal Shah and Keliher Walsh in the world premiere of "The Body's Midnight," co-produced by Boston Court Pasadena and the IAMA Theatre Company, at Boston Court Pasadena in Pasadena, CA. Photo by Brian Hashimoto

Boston Court Pasadena and the IAMA Theatre Company have co-produced the insightful world premiere of Tira Palmquist’s The Body’s Midnight, a Jessica Kubzansky-directed play about coming to terms with the loss of memory on a planet that is similarly losing a piece of itself. Despite perhaps the inevitability of what is to come, there is an appreciative remembrance to be had for what was and what soon will be referred to in the past tense, retrievable only by “breadcrumbs” that should be left behind as a road back to a semblance of normalcy — a hopeful message amid bleak horizons.

(L-R) Keliher Walsh and Jonathan Nichols-Navarro in the world premiere of The Body’s Midnight, co-produced by Boston Court Pasadena and the IAMA Theatre Company, at Boston Court Pasadena in Pasadena, CA. Photo by Brian Hashimoto

The 100-minute show at Boston Court gets the most out of only four actors, two of whom fill a host of roles, to tell a story that is topical and poignant — a function of Palmquist’s writing which interweaves relatable family issues with the degradation of an ecosystem that has been ravaged by climate change.

Anne and David are a long-time married couple of professors, who, with their camper van, are set to embark on a month-long road trip down memory lane, covering a sizeable swath of the United States. The trek is being done as an homage to Anne’s favorite locales, with their very last stop being St. Paul, Minnesota where their disquieted daughter Katie, alongside husband Wolf, is set to give birth for the first time.

Keliher Walsh (above) and Jonathan Nichols-Navarro in the world premiere of The Body’s Midnight, co-produced by Boston Court Pasadena and the IAMA Theatre Company, at Boston Court Pasadena in Pasadena, CA. Photo by Brian Hashimoto

But just as David and Anne’s drive begins, the latter reveals signs that something might be amiss with her health when she can’t quite remember the words to “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Her uncooperative recollection seems insignificant in the moment, but the simmer of tension between husband and wife reveals something beyond the idyllic picture the audience is afforded. When the protagonists stop for gas and “terrible chocolate” in Calico, CA, a curious interloper, who engages discussion and pooh-poohs “normie” destinations, inspires a sudden deviation in itinerary that is unlike the “Buzzfeed list” version of life — the idea being there are places, rapidly disappearing ones, beckoning one’s attention.

The Body’s Midnight is rife with key messages about humanity and nature, though it can use some trimming and a tighter pacing as there are some lulls and repetitive motifs that might try the patience of observers. Nevertheless, when it does get going, and when the audience fully learns about Anne’s plight, the investment in the outcome never wavers.

(L-R) Ryan Garcia and Sonal Shah in the world premiere of The Body’s Midnight, co-produced by Boston Court Pasadena and the IAMA Theatre Company, at Boston Court Pasadena in Pasadena, CA. Photo by Brian Hashimoto

Keliher Walsh depicts the vulnerable Anne in what is a highly palpable performance that resonates with anyone who has known a family member with memory recall struggles. An outpouring of sentiments is triggered by this intelligent and expressive character who is experiencing the gradual loss of her independence head-on, despite attempting to make memories of places teetering on the brink of their own change. From Anne’s vantage point, this is the “last road trip before the end of the world” — or at least the end of a major chapter in her life — which is why so much empathy is drawn when she forgets the word “skewer” in an affecting scene. It is a testament to the sensitivity with which Walsh presents Anne.

Playing Anne’s husband David is the Juilliard-trained Jonathan Nichols-Navarro who humanely realizes a man unflaggingly devoted to his wife. David’s humor, understanding, and ability to keep himself regulated serves as an example for how a spouse or significant other should act when their beloved is tasked with the tallest order of their lives. Nichols-Navarro is endearing when he speaks of how much he adores Walsh’s Anne, whom he lovingly refers to as “monster,” and puts his mark on a powerful exchange when he explains to his onstage wife why his David had to, for his own emotional health, relay Anne’s diagnosis to their daughter.

(L-R) Sonal Shah and Keliher Walsh in the world premiere of The Body’s Midnight, co-produced by Boston Court Pasadena and the IAMA Theatre Company, at Boston Court Pasadena in Pasadena, CA. Photo by Brian Hashimoto

Sonal Shah is Katie, Anne and David’s daughter who is predominantly pregnant throughout, balancing herself on a purple exercise ball and worrying mightily for Anne, in a solicitous switch of the mother-daughter roles. Shah exhibits an impressive versatility, shifting from Katie, to the opinionated stranger at the gas station, to an intensely passionate park ranger of Utah’s Fishlake National Forest (a memorable speech about the disintegrating Pando, the densest organism of genetically identical trees connected by a singular root system, is eye-opening), to a neurologist, and, finally, to a deeply disheartened ranger at Glacier National Park who laments how the remaining 25 glaciers are all expected to dry up by 2030. Shah is immensely skilled at altering her body language and intonations, depending on the persona she is inhabiting, so much so that one is apt to forget they’re all being portrayed by the same individual.

Similarly, Ryan Garcia, of Nickelodeon’s Big Nate, navigates a bevy of roles, charismatically capturing the alertness of attendees who can’t help but be intrigued by the actor’s pitch-perfect comic timing. Garcia’s idiosyncratic “prospector” with a keen interest in ghost mining towns garners plenty of laughs, especially when he heavily emphasizes hydration while opening a satchel containing sealed plastic water bottles. Not to mention, Garcia’s zany brain surgeon, who wheels in and out on an office chair, brings levity to the seriousness of Anne’s predicament. That said, the performer is also capable of emoting with increasing earnestness as he does as a general store owner and heritage resident near Anne’s all-but-gone schoolhouse in what is a sobering reminder about the transience of life. What is additionally noteworthy is that both Garcia and Shah’s medley of characters, who at one point share the same surreal plane of existence as a pair of fox-tailed rangers, operate as almost fated guides to assist Anne with her harrowing personal voyage.

Ryan Garcia in the world premiere of The Body’s Midnight, co-produced by Boston Court Pasadena and the IAMA Theatre Company, at Boston Court Pasadena in Pasadena, CA. Photo by Brian Hashimoto

Putting Anne and David’s peregrination into vivid focus is Nicholas Ponting’s scenery, comprised of simple but effective vertical columns of shredded white paper representing a forest. The set is illuminated by Benedict Conran’s lighting which contributes to the moods of certain scenes — from an optimistically aglow expanse of trees to a potentially dim prognosis. Furthermore, Mylette Nora’s flannel and outerwear costumes assist with the suspension of disbelief that these characters are undoubtedly hiking through nature.

However, while John Zalewski’s sound design of robotic dings is well-crafted and meant to be symbolic of Anne’s hospital visits and restlessness in claustrophobic MRI machines, it feels sonically out of tune with the overarching content. Last, but not least, David Murakami and Sam Clevenger’s projections are, in their own regard, the stars of the show in the way they interact with the set in what is a beautiful mix between abstract shadows and conspicuous colors.

Keliher Walsh (above) and Jonathan Nichols-Navarro in the world premiere of The Body’s Midnight, co-produced by Boston Court Pasadena and the IAMA Theatre Company, at Boston Court Pasadena in Pasadena, CA. Photo by Brian Hashimoto

Minor quibbles aside, IAMA and Boston Court Pasadena’s collaboration to bring Palmquist’s The Body’s Midnight to the stage has proven to be a worthwhile endeavor. Art has its highest value when it blends fiction with very real considerations, beseeching us not only to never take our memories or loved ones for granted, but look within ourselves to ask critical questions about the gradual collapse of the settings we dwell in. Some of these lands are nearby and some entail travel; nevertheless, the parallels between the space we occupy within our mind’s eye and beyond, in the external world, should spur a socially and environmentally conscious mobilization.

The Body’s Midnight runs through Sunday, May 26th. For more information and tickets to the world premiere of the Boston Court Pasadena and IAMA Theatre Company co-produced play, visit bostoncourtpasadena.org.

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