REVIEW: Headlights Up!

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Stage West’s primal, emotional presentation of Prism Movement Theater’s Everything Will Be Fine leaves us grateful for the rush, and the gift, of live theater.

Jan Farrington | TheaterJones 

Remember where you left your car keys in March?

Find them quick, and GPS your way to the empty parking lot where Stage West is presenting Prism Movement Theater’s Everything Will Be Fine.  Because it turns out, in this year that’s stripped the skin off all our certainties, that a stage is a stage…is a stage, baby!

Writer Zoe Kerr’s new work is a spirit-raising baptism into the theater of these After Times. You’ll be glad you found it. And if the message ultimately has more to say about hard-won acceptance than triumph, chances are it will leave you (like me) pumping a fist in exhilaration on the way home.

Our cars are taxied into precise places around the performance space — an area on the Texas Wesleyan University campus; you receive exact info when you purchase a ticket — and we tune in to the FM radio feed that provides a running narrative and soundtrack. The evening sun drifts down slowly behind us. I’ve been thinking about another Stage West production lately, 2015’s Mr. Burns, a post-electric play. And here we are, cultural norms flung to the crazy winds, clearing a space for storytelling with car headlights to push away the dark.

Actors in COVID masks and exercise blacks crouch down to towel-dry damp spots in the pavement left by a quick rain. Shadows darken. Between songs, an arch-voiced Radio DJ (Rico Kartea) quotes Latin mottoes and Donne poetry, and poses life questions that latch like a virus onto the receptors in our own angsty head space. Are your hands doing any good in the world? Why do we cling to things that don’t work for us anymore? If life falls to pieces, could there be something better ahead for us?

We meet a young couple (Kelsey Milbourn and Mitchell Stephens) sitting in their car, playfully trying out vows written for their upcoming wedding. “I promise,” he tells her in a prescient moment, “you are stronger than your sadness.” Out on the pavement, they dance with a quiet, content sense of love and some gender-teasing reversal of classical dance moves. Then, suddenly…

Stephens doubles over in a spasm of pain. Masked figures surround him, coming out of the darkness. Milbourn strains to reach him, but is blocked at every turn. Director/producer Jeffrey Colangelo and co-director/choreographer Kwame David Lilly work with a ballet-tinged hip-hop dance language that conveys both love and shock as the couple face this new threat. Lilly also is one of the fine actor/dancers of the piece, along with Rai K Barnard, Lauren Floyd, and Ania Lyons (who had to miss this performance).

Milbourn leans back on the hood of her car. Flatline static fills our ears, and she is alone. Tossing away a soft dress-like tunic, she is a fierce figure in black gloves. We note both her strength and her despair as she lifts one leg with both hands to force herself a step ahead. Others approach, but she can’t go to them. Palms reach out, fingers quiver in air…but no connection is possible.

Her grief isn’t a straight road, and her journey is not ours, but we understand it. In a rough, knockabout chain of experiences (told well in the edgy jerks and flow of the choreography, and by Jonah Gutierrez’s simple, mood-evoking lights) she responds to masked figures who alternate from supportive to threatening. (Hayley Williams’ song “Creepin’” and  Phantogram’s “Cruel World”  are among the well-chosen songs accompanying the action.)

Milbourn and Stephens (a couple quarantined together in real life) have a warm, playful chemistry going, and their physicality with each other feels radical, even jolting, in our socially distanced world. She remembers him — and them — and sits alone in their car. A new normal waits down the road, and with her, we begin to see it.

The whole show lasts barely 50 minutes, just long enough for present pleasure and future thought. Everything Will Be Fine held performances in the Dallas area in June and July (outside the Latino Cultural Center and at Pleasant Point Park)—and will play in Fort Worth until Sept. 27. The video above was taken by Mark Lowry at a Latino Cultural Center performance.

We’ve had fun these past months with online shows coming in from near and far: North Texas, New York, London. We’ve discovered (a shout-out to The Public Theater’s production of Richard Nelson’s What Do We Need to Talk About?) that a Zoom play on a computer screen can be just as riveting as Chekhov.

But we know. It’s time to begin going LIVE again, however we (safely) can—and Everything Will Be Fine is a short, bittersweet and utterly engaging place to start.