by Bill Garry
Plasticity, now running at the Hudson Guild Theatre in Los Angeles, is a remarkable production. A single actor (Alex Lyras, who co-wrote the play with director Robert McCaskill) plays ten separate characters, interacting with the audience
and himself through multi-media projections and other stagecraft.
The show is billed as a trip inside human consciousness by illuminating the latest theories in neuroscience. "Plasticity" refers to the brain's ability to rewire itself, relocating its functions to different areas of the brain and/or neural networks.
But Plasticity, the show, is much more than that. It is about a family and the wretched medical, legal and personal decisions they must make when one of them - David, an about-to-be-engaged twin - suffers a serious brain injury and falls into a coma.
Everyone has an opinion - the doctors, the lawyers, the orderlies, the almost-fiancé, and the estranged twin brother. Lyras plays them all (except two female characters who appear only as projected images), bringing each character's ambivalence, self-doubt and conflict to life with sensitivity and theatricality.
The show begins with David sharing his rock-climbing fanaticism in a vertigo-inducing montage. We then meet Dr. Singh, a metaphysical neurologist, who informs us that while a brain injury has put David into a coma, there is still hope. The brain is full of possibilities that we are only just discovering.
Lyras and McCaskill's script effectively weaves family drama with medical procedural. Humor - both character and gallows - is abundant.
But a sense of David the man was missing for me. The end of the play reveals David's magnificence, but if I knew who he really was in the beginning (besides a climbing fanatic), I would have more than just understood why his brother was so tortured and why his fiancé was so crazy stubborn. I would have felt it. It's hard to feel for your hero when he is in a coma.
McCaskill's direction creatively uses the small Hudson Guild stage, keeping characters and scenes clear and separate. The visual effects, produced by an army of multi-media experts, dazzle, and sometimes overwhelm the 42-seat space. Don't get me wrong - they are artfully produced and totally support the story. It's just that there were a few times when I felt like I was on an Epcot dark ride.
Plasticity could easily fill full-size theaters once the hero's heart - and not just his brain - is put center stage.
Photo by Jessica Sherman.