By Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig; Directed by Chongren Fan
Produced by Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 6.18.17
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue
by Aiden Dreskin on 6.5.17
Gerardo Pelati and Meilin Gray in 410[Gone]. Photo by Hunter Canning.
BOTTOM LINE: An adaptation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in the world of Chinese mythology.
Welcome to "Earth's Deepest Retreat," where your pain will be forgotten and your soul will be uploaded into the next stage of reincarnation until you are finally liberated from the cycle of birth and rebirth. The Chinese land of the dead is a world born from ancient myth and built with binary code, a resting hub for the human race as we transition between forms of existence. Please enjoy your stay, because after you drink the Soup of Forgetting and enter the next life, you won't remember any of it! Unless, of course, you killed yourself, in which case you may be stuck here for a long time.
410[Gone], by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, is the story of a boy named Seventeen (Roger Yeh) who commits suicide, sending him on a journey across the underworld while his older sister, Twenty One (Carolina Do), relives the night of his death over and over in an attempt to rescue him from his fate and solve the mystery of his death. On his quest, Seventeen encounters the Goddess of Mercy (Meilin Gray) and the Monkey King (Gerardo Pelati) who rule over the "retreat" and help ease the suffering of the dead. However, they are struggling to find meaning in their seemingly eternal lives, a problem which is exacerbated when Seventeen arrives and shakes up the order of their world. Through cleverness, luck, and a few well-timed care packages from above, Seventeen is able to stall his transition long enough to remember his past and communicate with his sister one last time.
The play calls upon a myriad of cultural and aesthetic influences, which tend to appear individually and contrast with each other in every moment of the play. In one moment, the Goddess of Mercy is playing Dance Dance Revolution, and in the next she is answering a call from a person committing suicide on a phone attached to a tree that seems to be growing phones on its branches. There's a lot of information and exposition that needs to be addressed to really understand the significance of the events, and despite some background provided about the characters and setting, I found that it often goes by fast and can be easy to miss.
The story is very compelling, Twenty One's struggle to understand her brother's death and undo it all underpinning all the events of the play. Carolina Do's performance brings into focus the lasting effects of suicide on the people it leaves behind, addressing the issue in a powerful and realistic way that doesn't rely on shock value or come off as too heavy-handed. There are other moments in the show that I'm not sure are reading the way they were intended to, with staging choices that left me confused at times, but I appreciate the work that went into crafting Twenty One's through-line.
410[Gone] is made up of a lot of very interesting pieces that are not quite greater than the sum of their parts. Striking yet disparate design aspects sometimes overpower the performances, because not enough time and care were given to ensure I knew the rules and was along for the ride. It's great to look at, but there's something lacking that would help me as an audience member. If you are particularly intrigued by the subject matter, there is a lot to admire about this show, but it may fall short if it isn't hitting close to home.
(410[Gone] plays at Theater for the New City, 155 1st Avenue, through June 18, 2017. The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $25, $20 for seniors and students, and are available at yangtze-rep-theatre.org or by calling 212-868-4444.)
410[Gone] is by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig. Directed by Chongren Fan. Scenic, Costume, and Sound Design are by Joseph Wolfslau. Lighting Design is by Yi-Chun Chen. Stage Manager is Bonnie McHeffey.
The cast is Carolina Do, Edgar Eguia, Meilin Gray, Gerardo Pelati, and Roger Yeh.