Pilgrims Reviewed

Eric Murdoch, Catherine Gowl, and Rufus Tureen

Pilgrims, the newest offering by playwright Jamie Carmichael and director Geordie Broadwater is making a splash in New York City and is apparently headed for the world renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival soon after.  Carmichael has crafted a story about a group of characters suffering from losses and not doing all that well in the recovery.  At the heart of the story are a lost brother and sister whose ghosts continue to haunt with reverberating consequences.  The lack of ability to deal with the losses has distanced the siblings from their friends and even from themselves.
Given this straightforward scenario, Carmichael has included a few tricks of his own that break new ground in black box theatre productions.  The play must be performed with four actors playing the seven or so parts.  All four actors are on the stage at all times.  They alternate in speaking roles, making minimalist sound effects, rearranging the extremely basic props and helping each other change clothes between scenes. 

Eric Murdoch (as Serge) and Catherine Gowl (as Tamara)

There is no “back stage” in Pilgrims.  Everything is done directly in front of the audience, effectively bringing the audience “backstage” into the minds of the characters.  In addition to that speculative psychological assessment, the open nature of the set and costume changes is simply fun, as when two characters retire to lovemaking and instead of removing their clothes in front of the audience, change costumes.  The laugh is on us.  The ice broken, we now have a chance to laugh at our own hidden feelings as we examine the hidden feelings of the characters.
The backdrop for the set is two Venetian blinds painted with scenery.  As the stage setting changes from light to dark, a simple pull of the cord dims the background.  Four boxes complete the set.  You figure out the rest.  Priming oneself for Pilgrims by seeing Ingmar Bergman’s recently released Saraband (or vice-versa) might be good idea.  The lines and subject of the play are similar to Bergman’s: direct and about things that count.  It is to their credit that Carmichael and Broadwater have been able to bring the ghosts of the departed into the play just as Bergman brings the recurring image of the loved and lost Anna.  The story is all about lingering spirits and guilt, and the lines and delivery have to meld to form a ghostly setting.  Well done–one wonders if Laura and David were really ever there at all.  Perhaps they were simply forms the audience imagined on stage, repressed fears represented by people.
Likewise, one wonders if the various characters played by the same actors may not be one and the same.  Perhaps the characters are simply different sides of the same human condition—our predisposition to try to go on with life as if nothing happened, when something has. Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.