Special, created and performed by Rachel Siegel. Directed by Jayne Atkinson and Heather Davies. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"It's like the brake and the accelerator are both pressed down to the floor."
Rachel Siegel; photo: Kristen Van Ginhoven
I saw the third and final performance of this play in development being presented by WAM Theatre, The Special Company and the Berkshire Theatre Group at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, MA. Impressive in its realization, script in hand, changes being made after each performance, the one-woman play is both enthralling (there the accelerator down) and a trifle empty (the brake referred to). Siegel is so talented that she can create a bevy of characters all by herself. What she cannot seem to do as yet is make us feel the reactions of the people she addresses in her play. We cannot hear or imagine the doctors, the friends, the others who seem to make a difference for her character as she plunges headlong into an experience that is, indeed, special.
Her experience here is realizing that the baby she carries is most likely a Down Syndrome child. A chromosomal difference is noted early in the play. Decisions are debated with friends and loved ones. Decisions are made. Rachel, the character, comes to grips with possibilities, probabilities and improbablities as well. In this version of the play she comes to those places alone and even though she converses a great deal with the unseen world, she remains alone throughout.
Based on her own realities, Siegel may have felt as alone as she appears to be in the play. If so, she has my sympathy, but her words would likely have us believe that she was never alone in all of this. It made me long for a second actor, a man, off whom she could play out her play. It may not be necessary to make that drastic a change, but watching her and listening to her and trying to imagine the other end of things (my imagination is a good one, and I hear voices here), it seems to me that the play could only profit from this inclusion.
The talent on stage is amazing. Rachel, the character, is an actress and her delicious resentment over not being Meryl Streep is a diversion from the plot that makes light moments glimmer on the dark stage. She understands that there is darkness within her, but she also cherishes the lightness she clings to as she struggles with her truths.
There is so much to enjoy in this tale of travail and comedy conjoined. The writing is lovely, whimsical and tragic. The staging by Jayne Atkinson and Heather Davies is resonant of time, and of place, and of growth. The simplicity of the production works well for a development workshop but also would be enhancing for a full production; spare as it is it reveals a lot about its occupant.
Rachel Siegel and her co-workers should look very carefully at what they have, how it plays with its audience and where it could go. While it is one woman's very personal story, with her insides outside and her privacy exposed, it is not yet a fully realized piece. It could be so much more, although as it is now she could easily play it anywhere and get acclaim for both her acting and her writing. I just think expansion could make it so much more enticing and revealing and emotionally relevant.