Last night I saw “The Visit”, performed by Sojourn Theatre. It was a fascinating, intense experience, and I wish I’d planned to see it sooner, because this is the last week they’ll be performing, and it’s sold out, so there’s no opportunity to go again.
This is the third Sojourn production I’ve been to. Their work uses physical movement, dance, stylized motions, and song, and often is written through group workshops, but here they adapted a play intended for a more traditional presentation. It took place across four separate spaces in Marshall High School, staged in a way that pushed at the boundaries between audience and performers.
The story is about a small, poverty-stricken town, and the return of Claire, a woman who has been gone for 30 years. She left as a pregnant, outcast teenage girl, and returns rich and powerful. She offers her wealth to the town, but there’s a price. It’s a tense, emotional play, and Sojourn does an incredible job of pulling the audience into it, and their choice of staging, and use of movement and sound, does a lot to facilitate that.
My favorite moments came in the last scene, first with the school teacher standing on stacks of books, trying to reach Claire, towering above her, to get her to understand the impact of what she wants the town to do. And then a little later, a conversation between Claire and a teenage girl is held with the girl on a trapeeze, which has the effect of making her seem so light and detached from the emotions of the town. That’s the scene I most want to watch again, to see her floating outside of everything, beside stiff, demanding Claire, and the girl’s anguished father.
There were a few things that detracted from the impact of the play. In the last scene the characters sing along with recorded music, and they seemed a little out of synch with the fast tempo, possibly because of different echo times for the audience and the performers on stage. Also, it took me a little while at the start of the play to quit thinking about how we were sitting in a high school band room, though they made good use of sound and lighting to draw the audience into the play.
I think the way they used the school worked well, though. The second scene took place with the audience facing a wall of mirrors in a dance studio, the actors sitting among us. The mirrors allowed the actors to work from within the audience, without forcing us to turn around to see, but it also allowed me to watch everyone else, which meant I could see how the emotions of the play affected other people, and I really liked that. I wasn’t the only one trying to keep tears in check.