Entertainment » Theatre


by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Oct 29, 2015
The cast of 'Choice,' continuing through Nov. 15 at the BCA
The cast of 'Choice,' continuing through Nov. 15 at the BCA  (Source:T. Charles Erickson)

Winnie Holzman, author of the book for "Wicked," turns her attentions away from Oz, but retains a sense for the joys and aggravation of sisterhood, and other forms of family, with "Choice," playing through Nov. 15 at the Boston Center for the Arts.

This comic examination of the life-long reverberations of major life decisions is rooted in the drama and absurdity of marriage and parenthood, enduring friendships and bonds formed through the things that didn't -- rather than did -- happen. Zipporah "Zippy" Zunder (Johanna Day) is about to start writing a big article for a major magazine. The topic? So-called "CLAF," which stands for "Children Lost and Found." This cheery acronym sounds like it might have to do with some sort of new program or technology that protects wayward tykes; in fact, it's a politically charged belief (some would say fantasy) that's been gaining ground across the country. The basic idea is that sometimes women of a certain age might have an instant, shocking connection with an unrelated person young enough to be their child -- and the reason for it is that they are that woman's child, in the sense that they are the reincarnated soul of an aborted fetus.

Madeline Wise as Zoe and Raviv Ullman as Hunter  (Source:T. Charles Erickson)

In the light of day, the notion seems laughable. But by night, and in the privacy of her own doubts and questions, Zippy begins to discover that she's not so sure there might not be something to it. Her research takes her from the New Agey ramblings of a famous movie producer to lacerating quarrels with her best friend Erica (Connie Ray), and impacts her dealings with aimless daughter Zoe (Madeline Wise) as well as her newly hired assistant, Hunter (Raviv Ullman).

There are a few men on the scene, as well, and they also bring relationship complications into the story. Erica is dating a fellow called Mark (Ken Cheeseman), a chirpy, joke-telling sort who both pleases and aggravates Erica. (She's forever deliberating on whether or not to dump him.) Zippy's own husband of 25 years is a famous author called Clark (Munson Hicks); he's an older man, who was already well established with Zippy met him. The spark between them broke up Clark's marriage and Zippy's relationship with a man also called Mark -- who, when he re-enters Zippy's life briefly, is referred as "Other Mark" (also played by Cheeseman).

Connie Ray as Erica and Johanna Day as Zippy  (Source:T. Charles Erickson)

But the man who creates the most tumult is Hunter. Zoe crushes on him; Erica intuitively detests him; and Zippy -- well, as Zippy puts it, she's besieged by powerful impulses both "to feed him and fear him." It's not that Hunter is someone who inspires distrust; he's puppyish and eager, and hardly dangerous, even if he does have something of a checkered past, his youthful misdeeds magnified by social media. But as Zippy mulls her reaction to the young man, her thoughts inevitably turn to the subject at hand -- and the idea that maybe there are ghosts of some sort that can follow us into later life.

Holzman knows the audience is going make that leap, too, but she doesn't allow the material to spin away from her control. Neither does she squeeze the life out of the play in an effort to tame it, pull it away from the outskirts of the fantastic, and make it quotidian; the play offers strange twists, and dips into Zippy's fear, fantasies, and perceptions in ways that seem quite novel.

To that end, Holzman also retains a sense for the mysterious; not in the sense of magic or spirits taking center stage, but rather in the feeling that behind ordinary life there are shades and specters gliding around, influencing and sometimes spooking us. The thing is, our decisions influence them in equal measure.

Johanna Day as Zippy and Raviv Ullman as Hunter  (Source:T. Charles Erickson)

The Huntington Theatre Company outdoes itself in terms of James Noone's scenic design and Rui Rita's lighting. Leon Rothenberg's sound design, and the score, bring the show the auditory equivalent of icy fingers on one's spine. This is a show that would capture your full attention at any time of year, but scheduling it for the Halloween season seems a stroke of real shrewdness.

Every member of the cast is strong; Sheryl Kaller's direction ensures that their energy hovers just a notch above realism. But when things boil over into angry accusations, that same energy allows for palpable emotion that swells up viscerally, rather than becoming shrill.

The play's politics are finely calibrated. There are truths on both sides of the reproductive freedom debate that the script, cast, and director acknowledge with heartfelt best intentions. Contrast this with "Dry Land" -- another play about similar subject matter at the BCA, just ending its run -- and it's remarkable how different in tone and style the two shows are, but how powerfully they both weigh in... though not with answers, mind you, but with a sympathetic authenticity of human experience, and with questions -- the sorts of questions we need to ask, and seldom manage to get heard over the roar of outrage.

"Choice" continues through Nov. 15 the Boston Center for the Arts. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.huntingtontheatre.org/season/2015-2016/choice

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Comments on Facebook