BOTTOM LINE: This one-woman show falls down the self-indulgent hole and has a hard time climbing out of it.
Writer and performer Penny Pollak and director Samantha Jones have extensive backgrounds in the solo-show genre. Their credits are plentiful, and their accolades many. Perhaps my expectations were overly inflated, but their latest offering, No Traveler, didn't proffer the quality I was expecting. The show is entertaining at times, but at the end of the day it doesn't quite know what it is - and as a result, the audience has a hard time connecting. This is not to say that there isn't potential there; the concept is solid and can be taken in several directions.
No Traveler is about a woman who commits suicide and then finds herself in purgatory. She can choose between Heaven and Hell, however to escape eternal damnation she must visit individuals who are seconds away from suicide themselves, and persuade them not to do it. I'm not quite clear why she must endure this final task - is it because she killed herself and Heaven doesn't look fondly on that?
This play is about people on the brink of suicide, at their darkest of moments. As a result, Pollak, playing these characters, is given ample opportunity to act with the greatest of emotional investment - after all, these people are at their most dire of hours. She is a great actress and certainly has the chops to bring these people to life, but in this genre, which already requires the audience to suspend disbelief, heavy drama crosses into melodrama all too easily. Thus is the downfall of this show.
I have the feeling the production team intended to make it quirkier than it comes across. At the beginning, Pollak's character performs this unconventionally silly dance as she kills herself. It incorporates physical comedy and slapstick choreography, and it sets an unorthodox tone to the show. But then as the other characters are so emotionally raw and real, it's hard to go back to that quirky introduction. Intentionally goofy moments pop up from time to time, but the comedy doesn't overshadow the drama in the suicidal characters' monologues. I had a tough time understanding the intended tone.
The lighting design and sound design are well-conceived and balance the show quite well. There is also a cool projected sequence, designed by luckydave. Really, there's some good stuff in No Traveler, I just wish they could hone in on the story and find the true message to be communicated. It would make the experience resonate stronger.
(No Traveler plays at UNDER St. Marks, 94 St. Marks, through March 6, 2010. Performances are March 3rd at 10:30pm and March 6th at 5:30pm. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at smarttix.com. For more festival information visit frigidnewyork.info.)