If given the choice of eating tiger meat to receive $20,000 or not, I’d eat the meat. In José Rivera’sBrainpeople brought to you by Throughline Theatre however, the characters at a dinner party must not only deal with what they are eating, but what is eating themselves.
An elite, macabre woman, Mayannah, played by Maura Underwood and her unrelenting, ferocious eyes hosts an anniversary dinner to commemorate the last meal she shared with her parents. The main dish is the tiger who’s mother killed Mayannah’s parents. That’s why this dinner is going to be special, she has a theory where you are what you eat. The tiger absorbed her parent’s memories and souls, which was passed onto her daughter, and now with two strangers Rosemary and Ani, she can fulfill her dream of reliving this dinner.
Rosemary and Ani are just as fractured as Mayannah. Although Rosemary is on stage the entire production we don’t actually meet her until the end. Amy Portenlager’s performance can be describe nothing less than transformative as she manipulates herself through Rosemary’s dissociative identity disorder (split personality disorder). Her skill of dialect and posture allow her to seamlessly become a posh underground rock star, an old school teacher, and painfully her own sexual abuser. Her performance is fascinating and heartbreaking, even when she sits silently uttering the words to the refrain, “my life was ruined by poverty.” She also opened the show by eating butter and I’ve never been more affected by anything in my entire life.
The other guest, Ani, has intimacy issues and appears to be slightly manic depressive after many painful encounters with men. Kaitlin Kerr’s own command of her character is surprisingly cunning and slow-burning. From afar, her large eyes analyzed the others but whenever drawn close to another they would waver avoiding any real contact. But, whenever Ani is taken over by the spirit of Mayannah’s mother, she was electric, seductive, and alluring.
What Brainpeople lacks however is an anchor. Rivera’s writing establishes conflict in the world outside of these women and inside their psyches but never between them. The scope of his work is great, but he shows us too much of it. Even though these women appear to be unstable, we trust them enough to give us information more subtly. This trust is reinforced by Sean Sears direction. He orbits the woman around one another often pushing them closer together when their bonds are strengthened through oppression but successfully pulls them apart giving them their necessary platforms to speak. The strongest moments for each actress being in their own isolation and self examination that sometimes left me shocked and compelled.
Brainpeople are those little things in your head you just can’t control. Luckily, Throughline’s production finds this control amongst the convoluted script with its gripping performances and attentive direction.
Special thanks to Throughline Theatre Company for complimentary press tickets. Brainpeople runs through October 31st, tickets and more information can be found here.
Performance Date: Friday, October 23, 2015