People, Places & Things
The National Theatre/Headlong Production
Written by Duncan MacMillan. Directed by Jeremy Herrin. At St. Ann’s Warehouse (NYC). Runs until December 3.
When Emma has a major crisis while onstage playing Nina in The Seagull—missing lines, unsteady on her feet, and uncertain where she is—it’s time for her to check herself into rehab. She snorts one last line of coke off the desk in the reception, thinking that all she needs to do is detox and then she can leave. The medical staff and people in her support group have other plans. She has to face her demons, be honest with herself, and understand why she turned to drugs and alcohol.
Playwright Duncan MacMillan has such a gift for storytelling. (His terrific play Lungs was at Tarragon a few years ago.) In People, Places & Things, he meticulously shows us the slow rise and the complete crash of a drug addict and alcoholic. It’s a careful examination of the culture of addiction and how addicts turn to the same tricks and lies to fool people who love and support them. MacMillan does not give us a neat, satisfying ending. Rather, it’s one that is true and believable.
Jeremy Herrin directs this with swift efficiency. The pace never lets up. The star, of course, is Denise Gough as Emma, who won an Olivier Award for this performance when it played the National Theatre in London. She is mesmerizing. From the hollow, ragged face and the glassy-eyed stare, to the constant unsteadiness on her feet and the fluctuation between regret, sadness, confessional sorrow, and lying, you are taken on a rollercoaster ride of gut-wrenching emotion. And it’s thrilling.
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