By Erik Ehn; Directed by Glory Kadigan
Produced by Planet Connections
Off Broadway, Play
Ran through 12.16.16
La MaMa, 74a East 4th Street
by Sydney Arndt on 12.22.16
The cast of Clover.
BOTTOM LINE: The new experimental drama by Erik Ehn explores the endless cycle of violence in America through the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till.
Clover is an emotional, dreamlike theatrical performance rooted in the unthinkable 1955 murder of Emmett Till, an African-American boy living in Mississippi. Intertwined with a few other non-distinct stories about violence, the work serves as an exploration of the cyclical recurrence of violence in America and the ghosts that continue to haunt us.
There are several working parts to the show, including shadow puppetry, folk music, and videography. It’s closer to being a staged mood poem than a play. Most of the time the language is so poetic and disjointed that the story is often incomprehensible, especially considering the busyness of the visual elements. As an audience member there is little to hold onto since both the text and action are conceptual, although Ehn does have a lovely lyricism to his work. It is challenging to understand the relationships between the characters and to even decipher where one story ends and the other begins. Perhaps this could be the point, but it’s unclear if that's the case. The confusion is also a result of the cast—quite large for such a small playing—all being onstage at once, even when their characters aren’t integral to that particular section of the show. While there are three or four storylines related by the theme of violence, the only one that feels tangible is Emmett Till’s. Since I was already familiar with him and the lasting impact of his case, I could rely on my own knowledge to help decode the puzzle.
Amidst the obscurity, there are those special moments when design, direction, and text come together to create clear, moving moments. The spirits of Till and a young pregnant woman who had been killed by her lover dance and play in a river and share a kiss. Till’s parents share an urgent dialogue in the afterlife about how “the story keeps going, keeps happening, happening worse”—highlighting how we continue to face hate crimes and violence in contemporary America. A man who had killed a young boy is plagued with cancer (metaphorically or not, I’m not sure). The imagery in Clover is powerful and certainly made me feel sorrowful and heartbroken, but the impactful elements of the production are overshadowed by the frustration of trying to follow along.
(Clover played at La MaMa, 74a East 4th Street, through December 16, 2016. The running time was one hour and 30 minutes, without an intermission. Performances were Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2. Tickets were $18, $13 Students/Seniors and were available at lamama.org or by calling 212-352-3101.)
Clover is by Erik Ehn, presented by Planet Connections at La MaMa. Directed by Glory Kadigan. Choreography is by Susan Tenney. Music Direction is by Jason Trager. Original Music is by Maya Solovey. Set Design is by Mike Kaukl. Lighting Design is by Benjamin Ehrenreich. Costume Design is by Izzy Fields. Sound Design is by Jacob Subotnick. Puppetry Direction and Video Design is by Jeanette Yew and Tomas Del Valle. Assistant Director is Adam Chisnall. Stage Managers are Kathryn Meister, Maddey Lemmon and Vanna Richardson. Puppeteers and Puppet Builders are Amy Jensen, Leah Ozawa, Linh Valerie Pham, Josh Rice, Sophie Weisskoff and Meghan Williams. Additional Video Design is by Aaron Gonzalez. Assistant Producer is Zac Kline.
The cast is Richarda Abrams, Francesco Andolfi, James Edward Becton, Carlotta Brentan, Kaela Garvin, Trevor Latez Hayes, Bob Jaffe, Laura E. Johnston, James B. Kennedy, Adin Lenahan, Joyce Miller, Kathleen O'Neill, Neil Tyrone Pritchard, Gina Marie Russell, Sawyer Spielberg, David Stallings, Ken Straus, Harold Surratt, Perri Yaniv, and Kayte Zhang.