By Mary Damiano
Finding meaning in the mundane and getting a new lease on life are just two of the themes running through Be Here Now, a new play by Deborah Zoe Laufer, now on stage at Theatre Lab in Boca Raton.
Bari, (Laura Turnbull) is a middle-aged woman who believes in nothing—she is a former New York City college professor whose subject was nihilism. Forced to suspend her teaching career until she finishes her dissertation on the subject of how nothing has meaning, she has returned to her tiny hometown in upstate New York to sell her parents’ home and work in a gift fulfillment center while she struggles to write.
Although it’s only two hours north of New York City, tiny East Cooperville is a different world, a small town where everyone is either related or has known each other practically from birth, and hopping in the car and driving one town over is considered an adventure. Bari’s coworkers are Patty Cooper (Elizabeth Dimon) and her niece Luanne Cooper (Gretchen Porro) who are descended from the town’s founders and have spent their entire lives close to where they were born. Patty believes in astrology and met Bari in kindergarten—she recalls how even then Bari was an anti-social child who called her classmates cretins. Luanne is sweet and flighty and thinks nothing of sending boob pix to a guy she’s met online. The Cooper women are both happy and content in their small-town existence, a direct counterpart to Bari’s dour demeanor.
Determined to fix Bari and help her be happy, Patty and Luanne arrange a blind date with Patty’s cousin Mike (Desmond Gallant) whom Luane describes as a genius with cute ears. While the Coopers are excited that the date could be a turning point in Bari’s life, she sees it as a chore and, plagued by one of her chronic headaches, talks herself out of following through. But when Bari has a seizure and experiences visions of light and sound, her perspective shifts. She meets Mike, a sweet, loopy guy who rides a bike, has a pet crow, and collects garbage to use in his work. As the seizures continue, Bari begins to question everything she’s believed about her life and the world around her, leading her to an unexpected path.
Laufer has a talent for creating unforgettable characters with distinct, quirky personalities—plot aside, it’s fun just to watch these people interact with each other. But she has also crafted an insightful story, one that takes threads of the meaning of life, mindful living, and finding purpose in the forgotten and woven them into a beautiful, thought-provoking tapestry. The play is bookended by two similar scenes, one funny, one lovely, that show how far the characters have come in a short time.
Laufer also directed this production, and each member of the cast delivers a winning performance while working together seamlessly, fully immersing the audience in their world.
Porro embodies Luanne’s sweetness, though her delivery hints at an aching sadness beneath her chirpy exterior, adding nuance and dimension. Dimon, who sports a head of spiky white hair with a shock of hot pink, uses her impeccable timing to great advantage, making her pitch-perfect as maternal Patty.
Gallant’s performance is sometimes funny, sometimes heart-wrenching, but always endearing. Like the character he portrays, Gallant wastes nothing—every gesture, every expression, has meaning and purpose—and he brings Mike to life with a quiet, insightful dignity, transforming him from character to fully-fleshed out person.
From the first moment of the play, sitting in a yoga class, cynicism on full display, Turnbull sinks her teeth into Bari and doesn’t let go, making the wild ride of Bari’s evolution all her own. In Turnbull’s skilled hands, Bari’s shift from austerity to awe is a joy to watch.
Matt Corey’s subtle sound design is exquisite, allowing the audience to hear through the characters’ ears. Jayson Tomashesky’s lighting illustrates Bari’s personality shift and grounds each locale. Michael McClain’s inventive scenic design visually enhances the play’s themes of meaning and purpose. Dawn C. Shamburger’s costumes complement each character to great effect.
Theatre Lab’s production of Be Here Now features some of the best talent in the region in a tender, thought-provoking play that is sure to resonate with those who see it. Even its title is a reminder to not let the beauty of every moment pass by without notice.
Be Here Now runs through April 22 at Theatre Lab on the FAU campus in Boca Raton. For tickets and more information, visit fau.edu/theatrelab
Photo Credit: Niki Fridh