Theater Review: ‘People, Places & Things’ at St. Ann’s Warehouse

By Jonathan Spira on 15 November 2017
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Emma, or is it Sarah, has an addictive personality. Not content with getting high from drink or recreational pharmaceuticals, she also gets her highs from performing as well, and therein lies the rub. “Acting gives me the same thing I get from drugs and alcohol,” she says matter-of-factly. “Good parts are just harder to come by.”

We first meet Emma playing the role of Nina in a performance of “The Seagull” drunk or high, or perhaps both as she spins out of control. The character’s despair becomes her own and her meltdown lands her at the very clearly marked reception desk at a rehab clinic, where she staggers through the intake process, offering up a lengthy list of things she’s swallowed or snorted in the previous 24 hours.

Nothing apparently is out of bounds in Duncan Macmillan’s West End hit, “People, Places & Things,” now playing Off-Broadway at St. Ann’s Warehouse, in which Irish-born actress Denise Gough reprises the role of Emma that won her an Olivier Award.

The show, which first opened in 2015 at London’s National Theatre before transferring to the West End, is kinetic and, despite Emma’s plight, her multiple efforts to get clean are both revealing and engaging, as is Bunny Christie’s inventive set, centrally located so the audience watches from two sides, where entire rooms as well as the occasional demon pop out. The theatergoer can almost smell the disinfectant.

The clinic’s philosophy is to follow a “religiously neutral” 12-step program where patients speak of being powerless over people, places, and things, something Emma questions once she notices her doctor prominently wearing a crucifix. “You look like my mother,” she tells the doctor, played brilliantly by Barbara Marten, who also plays her mother and another staff physician at the clinic.

What keeps Emma going is the idea of a homecoming, a return to her parents, where she will engage in a conversation that she previously rehearsed or “practiced” in group. Parents, however, don’t always follow scripts and Emma learns exactly how destructive her behavior had been to those close to her.

THE DETAILS

People, Places & Things
St. Ann’s Warehouse
45 Water Street
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11201
Runtime: 
www.stannswarehouse.org

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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