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Beate Hein Bennett

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night…
“Bring Them Back!”

May 9 – May 19, 2024
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave.(bet. 9th& 10th Str.), New York, NY
Presented by Theater for the New City
Thurs. through Sat. @ 8 PM, Sun. @ 3 PM
Gen. Adm. $12, for tickets call: 212-254-1109
Reviewed by Beate Hein Bennett, May 12, 2024

Carole Forman and Paul Korzinski. Photo by Steven Pisano.

If there is one inevitable event shared by all living beings, it is death. The very thought of it engenders within the living human being a wide range of emotions, from fear to fury, from sympathy for someone’s loss of a loved one to a sense of relief for the passing of one who suffered in the last throes of life. An animal seems to give in quietly, while a plant just shrivels up. Human beings, by contrast, have constructed post-death imaginary universes and mythical forms of immortality. Some cultures have even constructed elaborate systems of regeneration, resurrection, or some ideal trans-substantiation. David Willinger wrote “Bring Them Back, a Dark Comedy.” It is a semi-autobiographical paean to all the people that he has lost to death in the course of his life time. He invokes in his “meta-comedy” (as he calls it) the most recent shared experience of COVID, but also AIDS, the other “plague” that ravaged New York City in the 80s and 90s.

Carole Forman and Paul Korzinski. Photo by Steven Pisano.

Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do not go gentle into that good night…” for his dying father came to my mind as I watched David Willinger’s swirling dream-like evocation of memories of dead family members, friends, and associates. His dramaturgy interfaces moving video imagery of the dead, played by a varied cast of many (60!) with the live action of two actors, Paul Korzinski and Carole Forman as Paul and Trudy, an eccentric elderly couple. The program states that the action takes place “in a seedy NYC apartment/The Cosmos on the day after Yom Kippur, 2023.” (Yom Kippur is dedicated to remembrance of the dead and expiation of sin by the living.) A large creative team, notably Lighting Designer Alexander Bartenieff, with Video Graphic Design by Kayla Lessard, Costume Design by Sarah Shah, and original incidental music by James Yaiullo and numerous technical assistants supported the author/director/cinematographer David Willinger. The large stage space in the Johnson Theater is divided into several playing areas: a red circle in the center contains vessels and a small Golem figure for Paul’s repeated attempts to invoke the dead according to the Kabala prescription, described in the “Zohar”; upstage left is a kitchen area where Trudy dumps her shopping bags with food items; downstage left an easy chair with a lamp and a pile of books on the side; stage right is a drafting table and more book piles. There are two video screens suspended upstage right and upstage left. The upstage right screen is the surface for the video actions depicting various groups, such as family, or friends, business acquaintances in various situations, such as family dinners, disco dances, literary agent meetings etc. Paul, a playwright with aging 60s hippie characteristics, interacts with the larger than life video shadows of his past as they swirl on the screen; he also tries to capture all this in a play that is broiling in his head. Trudy, no less eccentric, dressed in hippie style skirt, is obviously the practical one, more grounded in reality, and a fierce critic of her partner with a wicked humor.

Carole Forman. Photo by Steven Pisano.

Willinger’s play is certainly not a Strindbergian Dance of Death. He has expertly directed the live-cum-video into a carefully choreographed comic exploration of our innermost existential fears with the farcical elements of our cultural pre-occupations with existential absurdity. However, as so many of us have shared, witnessed, or even suffered from these plagues and have experienced losses, David Willinger’s work also resonates with the raw emotions many have felt, or are still feeling.


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