Compelling. That is the word that keeps coming to mind as I think of Low Hanging Fruit, the play I saw last night at Z Below that tells the stories of so many people through the characters of just a few.
I described Low Hanging Fruit in a preview post last month, based upon a press release I’d received and what I could read about it online. As I look back on that post, I see that it was surprisingly accurate. Typically, when I see something, it differs considerably from the press release but in this case, a lot of what I felt during the play was already captured in that initial writing. This speaks to something I loved about the play – that care was truly given to each detail of the work, all the way down to the press release description. Everything worked perfectly together – from the characters to the space to the makeup to the music selections. It seems no detail went unnoticed in the making of this play.
Compelling. I come back to this again because it is the one thing that couldn’t be conveyed in a press release. And although I’ll try to capture it here, it’s the thing that you really have to go see the play to understand. I see a lot of local events – theatre and comedy and burlesque and circus and music – and I generally find most of them enjoyable. I laugh and I think and I get inspiration … but it is rare that I find something truly compelling, see something so gripping that I am taken out of the whirling that is my mind, pause my thinking to experience the intensity of the moment – only to be filled with thoughts hours later of moments in the play. Low Hanging Fruit did that for me.
You can learn the plot of the story from my earlier review, so I won’t repeat that here, but do want to note that a surprising number of themes and issues and metaphors and experiences were conveyed in the short amount of time that these characters took the stage. Four of the characters are female veterans, and we learn about different experiences that happen in wartime, in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the return to life afterwards. Some of these experiences cross generations, as hinted at but the Joni Mitchell music and folk songs early in the play that harken back to the struggles of Vietnam War. Some of these are unique to this generation of soldier, and more unique still to the experience of women in the military. As Cory tells her story of sexual assault at the hands of her superior, I immediately think of a recently Viceland Woman episode about the epidemic of rape among women in the US military. Her story is one story and many stories.
In addition to (and within) the multi-faceted layers of the military story, the play conveys stories of homelessness – stories of addiction, of the red tape of trying to get help from the VA, of prostitution, of childhood abuse and abuse in adulthood, of runaways, of women who are mothers and daughters, of PTSD and generalized trauma and flashbacks and wanting to remember and wanting to forget. Each of these women have their own ways of dreaming about a better future while fighting for their immediate survival.
The women live together in an encampment they’ve created for themselves, for women only, veterans only, to stick together because there is “safety in numbers”. They are a family of sorts, a family caught in the kind of high stress environment that leads to dysfunction. Through various scenes we see the utmost tenderness and care between them, and we also see terrifying violence amongst them. You can see that they hate to have to need each other and hate what they see in one another that is a reflection of the self but they love that they have one another and share a compassion for one another born out of similar experiences and needs.
Heather Gordon, Cat Brooks, Livia Demarchi in Low Hanging Fruit. Photo credit: Mario Parnell Photography.
I can’t say enough about the talents and skills of each of the individual women who play the four veterans. They embodied their characters so well it is difficult to believe they were ever anyone else off that stage. Each unique, each sharing her story in her own way, each so powerful.
The character of Canyon, the teenage runaway who comes to stay and causes some friction amongst the group, is an interesting one. In the first half of the play, she is adorable and you can’t help but feel for her. As time went on, I began to find her character saccharine and got almost annoyed with her naiveté, a story that didn’t ring true for me as I mused upon the young teenage girls I’d known in similar situations. Then her character takes a turn and the whole thing makes sense again. Well done. And I have to note here something I should have said at the beginning – actress Jessica Waldman has a stunning crystal clear voice that opens the show with song.
The lone male character in the play, a young pimp, brings another dimension to the narrative. The play is about the women and their lives and relationships; but women’s relationships rarely exist outside of the stories they have intertwined with men and so this character’s small role is a critical one. And although his own story is never addressed, one has to wonder how he came to be where he is as well, a man among women who could easily be his mothers and sisters.
The play is captivating. But it’s not always easy to watch. My heart raced many times. The characters yell with passion, the sound effects get loud (appropriately, rightly, like in a movie theater where it has to be this way and it makes it impossible for you to think of anything else). A police shooting scene caused a change to my heartbeat and breathing, too poignant amongst the news of today, too real. This is what makes the play compelling.
And thankfully, this is broken up with occasional humor, with music, with dancing. Interludes of slam poetry create pauses in the story. The poetry has its own gripping depth but it changes the pace of the play and makes the intensity more bearable. In these moments I could catch my breath, as one imagines a homeless women must catch her own breath throughout the day in those pockets of safety and necessary laughter. I could look around the theater and notice that the space for the play (an underground theater) worked perfectly and the characters worked the whole space, moving off of the main stage and towards the audience without ever breaking the fourth wall. I could notice the details in the makeup, scars important to the story that looked real even from a few rows away. And then I could be drawn back into the intensity of the story, having had a little relief, well calculated by the playwright in bringing the story to the stage.
Low Hanging Fruit runs through July 30, 2016. You can go see it:
Thursdays and Fridays @ 8pm
Saturdays @ 2pm and 8pm
Saturday July 30 ONLY @ 2pm
Sundays @ 2pm
Consider attending on Thursdays when you can arrive early and learn about a Bay Area organization helping with issues related to the play (a different organization each week). Learn more about this in my original preview post.