Allison Moore’s new play, Collapse, the current offering at Know Theatre, is quite literally a play for our anxious times. Its four characters are each driven by some form of anxiety unlikely in previous generations. Moore has tapped into the contemporary zeitgeist to write a story that, while full of zany, improbably humor, nevertheless hits a sensitive nerve that you’re likely to recognize and perhaps feel.
The overt reference of the play’s title is the collapse of the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis in August 2007 when 13 people died and 145 others were injured. David (Brian Isaac Phillips) was crossing the span when it happened. His car went into the river. He has healed from some serious injuries, but post-traumatic stress has taken over his life. His wife Hannah (Annie Fitzpatrick) is suffering, too.
An attorney whose clients are dropping like flies due to the economic collapse, she’s trying to help David recover while they simultaneously strive with to overcome infertility.
Hannah’s sister Susan (Torie Wiggins) arrives unannounced from California. A free spirit relative to her tightly wound sister, her employer has been defunded and she’s been evicted. She has vague plans to seek work, but her stay promises to be open-ended in a household already awash with issues. Hannah has been badgering David to attend a PTSD support group, but he’s refused so she decides to check it out. She meets Ted (Brian Griffin), a charming guy with own dysfunction, a fact best left to be revealed by the performance. Let’s just say he’s an unlikely a catalyst for Hannah’s deeper understanding.
Collapse is structured like a comedy. The opening scene has David agonizing over giving Hannah a hormone injection to ramp up her fertility, but the first visual we’re presented with suggests a more comic scenario. Susan’s unexpected visit makes Collapse feel like a TV sitcom. She spouts psychobabble about being “open to the flow,” and she’s the polar opposite of Hannah, whose every utterance reveals her profound nervousness around factors that have spun well beyond her ability to control.
Know’s former artistic director, Jason Bruffy, has come back to Cincinnati to stage this script, and he brings a deft touch to assembling these comic elements in a production that breathes like real life, despite several outrageous, laugh-out-loud events and circumstances. The message of Collapse about supporting one another when the world is crumbling has serious resonance, and the play’s final moments of reconciliation between David and Hannah are truly moving — inconclusive but fully human.
Bruffy’s fine direction is made all the better by his solid cast. Fitzpatrick, making her Know Theatre debut (she’s been a regular at Ensemble Theatre for years) conveys a woman on the brink with assurance and accuracy. When she meets Ted in a church basement where several support groups are wrapping up, she delivers a lengthy monologue to justify why she’s been lurking in a doorway. Fitzpatrick’s voice and facial expressions are as important as the words she’s speaking to convey her profound frustration. Her explanation, which evolves from humorously apologetic to uncontrolled tears, is both affecting and real.
Phillips completely embodies a man who sees himself as damaged goods but can’t figure out how to move on. David feels guilt for surviving the bridge disaster; he movingly describes how he thought that event must have been the aftermath of a bomb or a meteor. When he escaped from his submerged care came up out of the water, little had changed but his world was irreconcilably unbalanced. David wants to recalibrate his fears and re-engage in life, but he’s paralyzed by his fear, convinced that Hannah is ready to give up on him. Phillips convincingly portrays David’s conflicting emotions, and his confession to Hannah in the play’s final moments evokes the show’s underlying message regarding the human need for interdependence.
Wiggins and Griffin’s roles go beyond mere comic relief: Each asks tough, clarifying questions and offers options to force Hannah toward her own understanding. Wiggins has a fine sense of comic timing, and Griffin employs a slow drawl and pregnant pauses that make his exchanges with Fitzpatrick a pleasure to watch.
Collapse has heart and humor. The show reflects and resonates with the world we live in, right here and right now, full of pain and doubt. But its meaningful story is told with comic finesse. I suspect Know Theatre fans will be clamoring for tickets for the next month — and deservedly so.
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