The Clearing, now running until February 9th at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, is a new play that deals with secrets, relationships, and the complex ways we grieve. Its occasional narrator is Peter (Gene Gallerano), a young photographer who has fallen in love with Les Ellis (Brian McManamon). The snag in their romance is Les’ close but troubled relationship with his brother Chris (Brian P. Murphy). Chris has never quite grown up after the terrible event that happened to him and Les when they were children. Both brothers have kept the tragedy a secret and continue to visit the forest clearing where it took place. But Peter’s insertion into the clearing and their lives pushes the Ellis family to confront their demons—with devastating consequences.
The production, directed by Josh Hecht, is a visual delight. Daniel Zimmerman’s set design has brought the magic of the outdoors to a Midtown theatre, with a tree replete with fall foliage and a dirt lined hill dominating one side of the stage. Gertjan Houben’s gentle lighting illuminates the action without overpowering it, and Lorin Latarro’s choreography adds intriguing movements to the transitions between scenes. The cast all inhabit their characters with wry humor and surety. Allison Daugherty, in particular, plays Les and Chris’ mother with a combination of humility, charm, and quiet suffering that makes her equally captivating and heartbreaking.
The Clearing is a family drama centered on the mystery of Les and Chris’ past. While it was fun trying to guess their Big Secret (my guesses about the same as Peter’s), there were other mysteries I could not unravel. How did Les and Peter meet? Where does the Ellis family live? Why is Chris so disconnected from his mother and more disturbed about the past than Les? In an interview, playwright Jake Jeppson says that because people—and therefore, characters—act illogically, he wants to “reduce the sometimes gripping need we feel to explain actions and events on stage.” Though an excess of explanation can bog down a show (looking at you, first acts of Elizabethan drama), the lack of specificity in The Clearing makes it difficult to relate to its characters. The resulting climax is more of an intellectual shock than an emotional one.
Still, the play has put me off from hiking anytime soon.
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