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A CurtainUp Review
You Are Dead. You Are Here
Virtual reality video isn't new as a story-telling device (the empowering media design is by Jared Mezzocchi), but it is an integral part of this story about Michael (Anthony Gaskins) an American war veteran who is being treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at a Veterans Recovery Center. The provocative, but carefully incremented weekly treatment sessions presided over by therapist Dr Hannah (Kittson O'Neill) is the core of a drama with humans at its heart, but media as its engine.
The dedicated Dr. Hannah may be feeling stressed with implementing the new and somewhat experimental technique she has developed, but she is hopeful that a breakthrough is forthcoming for Michael so that he can return to living a normal life. The clever plot is splintered purposefully, as Michael's sessions are suddenly intruded upon by a live internet feed from Zaynab (Kathreen Khavari), a young Iraqi woman blogger. With slow and heartbreaking revelations about her experiences, she adds another level to Michael's story as she brings her own horrific/heart-breaking experiences into the sessions. But these are only for us to see and hear. This is done indirectly through a monitor in which we see her as well as images that validate her connection to the soldier.
Zaynab's detailed revelations are important components in the play, especially as they relate to Michael's memories as they slowly surface through his active participation in the program. In actuality, these video gaming programs are being used by the military as a training tool and for use in therapy. Khavari is incredibly moving as Zaynab but she also plays the role of Nadia, an office temp at the clinic where the play is set and where Dr. Hannah guides the reticent and anguished Michael into recreating in a virtual reality game what happened to him.
Using a headset, he sees and hears what we also see and can hear from a large overhead monitor. A curious and unexpected development occurs when Michael thinks he may have previously met Nadia. The sessions become increasingly tense as Dr. Hannah is able to add Michael's memory of how he got a brain concussion and began feeling the symptoms of PTSD.
The events seen in virtual reality begin with the U.S. troop's invasion of Fallujah in March 2003 and end on the day of a massive military assault on April 4, 2004 — "Operation Vigilant Resolve," a day that led to the death of hundreds of civilians. The sessions in real time are equally gripping as well as thought-provoking, made so by the fine performances of Gaskins, as the tormented solider, Khavari, in the duel roles, and O'Neill as the therapist.
Australian-born playwright Evans' has made a career down under as well as in the U.S. where she has received honors including a Fulbright Award. We might hope that this impressive collaboration with director Megel and media designer Mezzocchi will encourage them to bring another exciting theatrical experience to New York. It isn't often that I get to visit Here, noted for the past twenty years for presenting "daring new hybrid performance." It was a rewarding visit.