Kissing the Floor

Tue 5th – Sat 9th June 2012

reviews

Lindsey Allan

at 04:10 on 7th Jun 2012

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'Kissing the Floor' was a highly ambitious undertaking for director Chris Johnson and the cast and crew of his production, not only because the play had never been performed but because it deals with complex issues like pedophilia and suicide that are difficult even for the most skilled professional actors. I was extremely impressed with the performance, which I felt reached a high level of acting I have rarely experienced in student productions.

McLaughlin’s play is as much about what happens onstage as what has happened and is imagined off it; the play switches between monologues in which characters recount events from the past (Eddie’s retelling of his parents’ story and Izzie’s narrations) and delve into fantasy worlds, and dialogue between characters in front of the audience. Much of the conflict in the play arises between Annie, who opts to remember the “good times” in her past and create a fantasy world around them by which she justifies her support of Paul despite his abusive tendencies, and her sister Izzie who rejects Paul and encourages Annie to face reality and reject him too. Lara Panahy’s performance of Annie’s descent into the fantasy world she has created as a safe space to cope with the harsh realities of her life is nothing less than spellbinding. The actors in this production handled the complex transitions between fantasy and reality, monologue and dialogue, with fluidity, illustrating the directing skill that was no doubt behind the performance. A transition I felt was particularly well-performed was towards the end of the play when Izzie (played by Hillary Stevens) interjects in one of Annie’s fantasy conversations with her dead father, coming out of her narrator role and interacting with the character behind her. The ease of such changes in Johnson’s production made the interplay between fantasy and reality, such an important element in this play, even more effective, and added particular depth to Annie’s character who is so often lost in her imagination.

The set design was very minimal (sometimes there was nothing onstage, or simply a table and chairs), and I could see no evidence of the supposed depression-era time period. However, the sparseness was an effective choice for a play that so often transports its viewers into worlds outside the actual stage, and the intensely moving acting rose to the challenge of being the production’s focus. The characters frequently ask each other to “describe it to me, like I’m standing next to you, and I’m blind" in attempts to understand one another's experiences, and the actors in this production made me feel as an audience member that I was directly experiencing their stories despite the lack of visual stimulation. The use of the select few props was thoughtful when it did occur, as at the start of the play when the kitchen table in the house during Izzie and Annie’s first interaction becomes the table at the prison in the next scene, suggesting the way Paul’s criminality has entered into and infected the sisters’ relationship.

Aaron Docker’s performance as Paul was highly successful in the relaxed manner in which he delivered his character's horrific accounts of child abuse. This added complexity to the character by illustrating that Paul does not fully understand his actions are wrong, a moral discrepancy that is a source of repeated conflict between him and the rest of the play's world. The chemistry between Lara Panahy and Hillary Stevens in the final conversation between Annie and Izzie, was riveting. The scene literally brought tears to my eyes as it did for other members of the audience, and while the warden’s performance was less emotionally charged than the others in the play, this was partly a result of the script itself. Clearly director Chris Johnson has brought forth the pre-existing talents of these actors to full force in his production, and I truly mean it when I say this is the most successful student-directed play I have attended in a long time.

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