Directed by Jessica Kubzansky
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Everything you touch turns to gold. Everything you touch turns to dust. “Everything you touch surely dies.” (From the song “Let Her Go” by Passenger)
“Everything You Touch” is a time warp and space warp marathon, pushing and pulling at the audience as it takes audience members on a roller-coaster ride through events in real time, through events in the past, and ultimately to that place where all events initiate and resolve: the human mind. Sheila Callaghan’s play, currently running at the Cherry Lane Theatre, explores the important themes of love, longing, and loss in the context of indifference, suffering, and objectification. Her play is at the same time complex and compelling and worth every bit of the effort it takes to connect with the enduring questions it addresses, including the question of how we truly affect those whom we know and those we might not know.
Typically one wonders whether interacting with others results in something positive or constructive (‘gold’) or something negative and destructive (‘dust’). In “Everything You Touch,” 1970s fashion designer Victor has the knack of having everything he touches wither and/or die. But this is really not Victor’s (played with an eerie realism by Christian Coulson) story but the story of protagonist Jess (played with brilliant dreamlike realism by Miriam Silverman) whose memories and fantasies and needs spin the fascinating and intriguing story of the need to belong in an environment of nihilism and neglect.
Jess’s story in the present is intimately connected to past events, events in the 1970s involving Victor, his two muses Esme (Tonya Glanz) and Louella (Lisa Kitchens), her wannabe boyfriend and co-worker Lewis (Robbie Tann) and three Models (Allegra Rose Edwards, Chelsea Nicolle Fryer, and Nina Ordman) who strut the runway for Victor and who appear as delicious props phones, Chipotle servers, bubble gum machines) in scenes with Jess.
It is difficult to review “Everything You Touch” without giving too much away. The relationships between real time characters and characters from the past and the relationships that never were developed in real time are so intricately intertwined that to reveal one “secret” would interfere with the audience experiencing the strength of this brilliantly written script. What can be reviewed are the remarkable performances, the script itself, and the efforts of the creative team.
Under Jessica Kubzansky’s precise and expansive direction, the ensemble cast delivers authentic and deeply honest performances that invite, even cajole the audience to consider several questions. These questions are answered (well, mostly) throughout the course of the play and will leave the audience members engaged in the lives of Ms. Callaghan’s characters for some time after the performance. Who is Jess and how is she related – if she is – to Victor and Esme? Is she related to Louella; if so, how? Why are models serving as props in Jesse’s scenes? Francoise-Pierre Couture’s sets, Jenny Foldenauer’s brilliant costumes, and Jeremy Pivnick’s phantasmal lighting add to the overall charm and mystery of this must-see performance.
Pixels are the key to understanding the dramatic matrix of “Everything You Touch.” Pixels are the key to perception and perception is the key to all of the events that occur in Jesse’s adventures in the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. Perhaps Jesse’s tumultuous journey is a journey to inner peace. At one point Victor says about his new clothing line inspired by his new muse,” Um, well we’ve been through quite a bit of tumult the past few years as a nation, with the war, and the recession, and et cetera, and I believe it’s time to be innocent again and turn our attention to our most basic needs. Comfort. Stability. Simplicity.” Coming to terms with one past, one’s fantasies, one’s present can provide that kind of comfort, stability, and simplicity in the present “bit of tumult” of the first quarter of the twenty-first century. In one of what might be a fantasy/dream sequence, Victor also affirms to Jess, “Death will get in, though.” The enduring question: can comfort, stability, simplicity, innocence, and honesty get in first and circle the wagons?