The Misunderstanding at Theatre Y | Theater review
Director Kevin V. Smith finds an arresting visual metaphor for Camus’ play, then knows just when to abandon it.
Smith lands on a striking visual metaphor for his highly stylized staging of Camus’s play, in which a man (played by Smith) returns home after many years abroad to find that his mother and sister no longer recognize him. What’s more, they’re now running a boardinghouse and killing the lodgers for their money. Smith places the women and their sparsely furnished establishment under yards and yards of translucent plastic sheeting, a conceit that manages to externalize many of the play’s themes.
For starters, the sheeting, along with the actresses’ constricted range of motion, often makes the characters look as if they’ve been frozen in a block of ice, a reflection of their near-total loss of warmth and fellow feeling. At the same time, we think of literal and figurative suffocation, and, in the right light—usually a lone spotlight or dim illumination from a window—the stuff’s milky sheen gives mother and daughter the look of ghosts. It’s a fitting image for a play, written in occupied Paris in 1943, that’s obviously haunted by the inhumanity of war.
The concept can get cumbersome, however, especially whenever someone has to cross the stage under all that plastic, and it threatens, after a while, to make the play feel heavy-handed and oppressive, its subtext transmogrified into supra-text. But just then Smith has the good sense to remove the plastic and unleash Hawkins, who plays the daughter, for a shattering final act that combines fury and despair and goes a long way toward justifying all that precedes it.