Be Here Now ponders the meaning of it all

Photo courtesy of Mikki Schaffner | Luanne (Emily Kratter) uses her “healing hands” on main charachter Bari (Eva Kaminsky). The show opened on Playhouse’s main stage yesterday.

What is our purpose in life? The recently-opened production of Be Here Now at Playhouse in the Park attempts to explain why we are here on this Earth and the point of our existence. It does so in a completely unexpected way: through comedy.

When the show opens on a dingy fulfillment center bleakly lit by a few empty lights, you don’t expect charming humor to come out of the three distinctly different women on stage. Bari (Eva Kaminsky) is a downcast, pale woman dressed in all black, and right away, you get the idea that she doesn’t have much to live for. She is a teacher of nihilism, and you can feel the philosophy shine through every aspect of her personality.

As she engages with the other two workers, the bright-eyed country girl Luanne (Emily Kratter) and her strict, 80s-fashionable aunt Patti (Michele Ragusa), her stances on astrology, love and religion all paint the picture of a woman who doesn’t see the beauty in anything the world has to offer.

What makes this play so phenomenal are the sharp contrasts between Bari’s desolate, uncaring nature and the fulfilling, loving nature of Mike (Torsten Hillhouse), a family friend whom Patti encourages Bari to pursue. The interactions between the two begin poignantly as Bari doesn’t see the beauty in Mike’s simplistic lifestyle and nonchalant demeanor. As she falls in love with him, she begins to realize the beauty of this world.

Kaminsky pulls off Bari effortlessly, switching between her empty pessimism and jubilant optimism in mere seconds. She embodied Bari’s soul-crushing emptiness in a way that truly moved me. One particular moment that nearly brought me to tears was her climactic monologue in which she questioned whether removing the source of her seizures would cause her to lose the very thing that was making her happy. Her desperate rationalization was embodied perfectly through Kaminsky’s frenetic physicality.

Hillhouse foils Kaminsky’s behavior perfectly as Mike stands in the background, watching Bari’s despondent mood swings drive her to irrational behavior. I noticed early that his line delivery was relatively similar each time, which actually played well into Mike’s ability to detach himself from people and situations to maintain his sanity. Mike acts as a column that Bari’s instability wraps itself around. Hillhouse’s debut to the Playhouse stage was definitely a strong one.

Kratter and Regusa are not to be forgotten, however. The former’s portrayal of the plucky, naïve Luanne serves as yet another perfect juxtaposition to the downcast Bari. Kratter’s Luanne maintained unfaltering love toward Bari, which made their friendly interactions completely heartwarming. Regusa’s was stern and unwavering. She pushed Bari when necessary and knew when to apply tough love.

Like Hillhouse, Regusa debuts on the Playhouse stage powerfully and gracefully. Both actors added copious amounts of humor that helped make for a surprisingly funny play given the subject matter.

I also must mention the sound design by Nok Kanchanabaka. The between-scene transitions were punctuated by atmospheric “life sounds” that were directly related to the scene to follow. Tape ripping, paper crinkling, car honking and heart monitor beeping were only some of the sounds used in Kanchanabaka’s diverse soundscape. I could listen to a whole album of these transitions and never get tired of them. They were the perfect accents to set the mood for the scenes that followed.

Be Here Now is written by Deborah Zoe Laufer and directed by Portia Krieger. Set design is by Daniel Zimmerman, costume design is by Gordon DeVinney and lighting design is by Thomas C. Hase. You can purchase tickets here.

By: Trever McKenzie ~Online Editor~