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A CurtainUp Review
Before Your Very Eyes
We first encounter the young actors enjoying each other's company and playing games in a cheerful playroom. Blind Man's Bluff has them chasing each other around the room, then playing jacks on the floor and cards at a table, while a boy shows how expert he is with a hula hoop. Their activities take place behind large one-sided mirrors. Framing the room are two huge video screens. A female voice is heard and we see her instructions projected above. The group, as well as each child, responds to her precise directions and gentle commands.
During the course of their fast-forward trip through life, they apply their own makeup and wigs, and dress up in sometimes ghoulish and sometimes funnily appropriate attire as they affect behavior and mannerisms that they imagine will be them in the future. We also get to see them on the screens as their current selves, friends to the end, ask their future selves questions. This is in realistic child-speak, the result of the young actors' improvisational rehearsal/workshops.
At first reluctantly, then with growing enthusiasm, the children take on the task of envisioning themselves going through puberty, coping with the availability of drugs and alcohol and defining their sexual identity. One priceless moment includes a group encounter with cigarettes that looks like a production number as conceived by Harold Pinter. Another funny memory for me will be that of a girl not knowing at what point to stop stuffing her bra with tissues. This is definitely not intended as a cutesy example of pretentious theater games for sophisticated children. The cast of seven that I saw for Team A comes from New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut. They will alternate with seven for Team B.
We can see the sadness, the disappointments and the confused faces as the children see their future selves on the screens and realize they may not be getting what they might have wished for. The Voice also makes it clear that death is a reality and a certainty. We may take the pretend journey with them to the ends of their lives with semi-detached amusement, but they appear to become wiser, even as they become more open and receptive to what it means to grow up.
It only takes 75 minutes to get through seven lifetimes, but unless you have a heart of stone, you will be deeply affected by their willingness to trust themselves amongst themselves. We, of course, take them seriously. They are inclined to pick up a microphone to sing, find time to dance with abandon and consider the possibility of changing course.
The beauty of Before Your Very Eyes is that we don't feel as if children are giving a performance. This, despite, in some cases, their impressive program credits. I suspect this is because all the dialogue that is spoken, except for the Voice, is taken from improvs.
The question of whether or not we are being shamelessly manipulated seems to not matter a whit being in the company of these marvelously lively and personable youngsters. While there are no phony or untrustworthy moments in any of the performances, you may also be sure that the creative team has carefully planned the right moments when some pathos is put into service. The changes in the children's personalities are astounding yet always connected to their former selves. Most poignant moments occur when they are motivated to ask what they are doing now that they didn't do before.
The Voice makes it clear to them that they "are not special." But Before Your Very Eyes is not a sentimental journey from birth to death, but a sublime reflection of our lives as seen through the eyes and the perceptions of the young. I am not inclined to single out a standout performer as they were all exceptional. I think you can trust that Team B will be as endearing as is Team A.
Gob Squad first met the cast of Before Your Very Eyes in November 2013