When you step foot in a theatre, you never know exactly what is going to happen. It’s one of the magical things about live theater. The actors, the set design, and the music create this magical world for the audience to take part in. On Friday night, I was lucky enough to go to Art House Production’s performance of “Grace, or the art of climbing” by L.M. Feldman with some friends during their ‘Pride Night’ with Hudson Pride. It was a wonderful experience with great actors, a wonderful script, and a compelling story of fear, acceptance, and growth.
Right at the beginning, I felt unsure of where the play was taking me. Emily Kitchens played the character Emm, whom at the start was definitively a lost soul. You know things are not going well for her with the depiction of time passing and her hardly moving. The constant reminders of the temporal trope throughout the show keeps the audience in tuned with the passage of time. Emily has an incredibly expressive face which allows for the sadness, the anger, the attraction, and all her emotions throughout the show to create a vivid picture of Emm’s characters. This makes you feel for her almost instantly, even though right at the start you’re not quite sure what’s going on.
The play peels back layers as it goes on revealing Emm’s life from Boston to Miami. It begins to show her strong relationship with her father, although it’s stated early on this isn’t her actual father, but the idea of him. Something has happened, which you’re not quite sure of until much later in the show. This idea of her father pushes her to begin climbing a rock wall that she has in her family’s garage. Starting out slowly, she climbs it. Then stops. Then climbs again. This creates the first layer the character needs to overcome. She is seriously afraid of falling. The question remains, why?
Abe, Emm’s father, played by Lawrence Street has a strong presence on the stage. Even as an idea, or memory, he stands by and watches her. He pushes her. He creates a very sturdy foundation for her to build up her confidence, and in turn her life, by climbing. This relationship continues to be explored as the play goes on, although it hits home hard when they reveal exactly why Emm has a sense of loss for him. Emm’s journey continues when she begins to train with Sims, actor Paulo Quiros. She, to some extent, pushes herself into his climbing class for children. As their relationship grows closer, the play begins to unravel everything that happened in Emm’s life only for climbing to build her back to a place of power, strength, and commitment to herself.
The play evokes an incredibly emotional response, both for strong acting, but also because of the message of self-empowerment that permeates throughout the entire story. Emm’s reveal of her own sense of abandonment first from her ex-boyfriend in Boston and then by her father, due to his stroke, created a deeply resonant story. Emm has a fear of falling in love, a fear of failing a climb, and those fears have held her back. Emm represents the same kind of fears we all have throughout our life and inevitably has her own will and drive of climbing help her overcome them. At the end, the story did not feel about the climb or abandonment or loss. It’s about what happens after those things. You find a way to stand up and try again.
Art House Productions used a fantastic script, compellingly talented actors, and a beautiful set to create a story of female empowerment, growth, and acceptance of fear. “Grace, or the art of climbing” has two productions left tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow 3pm at Art House Productions on 17th St. in Jersey City. Make it a point to check it out. You can find tickets online at Art House Productions or buy them directly at the door.