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Inside Cara Scarmack's examination of motherhood, isolation, the apocalypse and everyday weirdness
By the time I arrived at Cara Scarmack's some higher glimmer in our landscape of flat, presented by Buran Theatre at Collapsable Hole, I'd already traveled through three boroughs and was schlepping a very large to-go cup of soup. That turned out to be a fitting entrée into this visceral work, which takes theatregoers on a journey full of rotaries, U-turns, detours and full stops.
Scarmack, who earned an MFA in playwriting from Brooklyn College, is an unabashed language playwright for whom plot is a secondary concern. Her latest piece is an intentionally meandering meditation on loneliness, motherhood, the end of the world and how to get through your day when you land in the soup. Audiences are even given ponchos and safety kits to help them navigate this immersive adventure. "They're to prepare you for this great personal and global change," Scarmack explains. "How do we prepare for that? Can we prepare for that? And when we are in a new place, can we let go of our former self / selves / life and embrace the present one?"
When Scarmack began writing some higher glimmer in our landscape of flat, she was in the throes of her own personal transformation due to pregnancy. "I was in a state of not knowing how my existence was going to change and my emotions were running my life!" she recalls. That kind of emotional intensity became the through line for the play, which features a series of two-person scenes that seem unconnected on the surface but are, in fact, united by a subterranean, hard-to-describe logic. It starts with a churro guy, then abruptly shifts to a disaster zone, there's a song and an exchange in a cafe, and then we're on a plane. (The mom mannequin and teaspoon-stirring symphony come later.)
"The characters want the play to go in one direction, but the rug keeps getting pulled out from under them," Scarmack says. "These swerves and sudden changes aren't really explained and they don't need to be, otherwise the show would lose some of the emotional experience we have every day."
One line that feels particularly poignant is: "You think your day is going to be one way and it never is and isn't that glorious and also a pain?!" This could be a mantra for any New Yorker who's been stalled on a train or experienced an unexpected tri-borough trek, but also for a parent dealing with the surprises of child-rearing. For Scarmack, the interruptions and diversions in her play "make you really alive to what's happening, because you cannot anticipate it or live in your head, but you have to live more in your body and in your heart and in your emotions."
The production is enhanced by 11 original songs composed by Johnny Gasper, which run the gamut from new age electronica to jazz club to mountain music. "The point of the numbers is for the characters to scream out something gutturally that only singing can do," the playwright says. "Music is about emotional truth and it's a way to heal yourself."
Indeed, Scarmack's unanticipated language choices, which include puns, grunts and nonsense, are often musical, leaving listeners with a lot to chew on. "I want to embrace the clunky, the people who cannot express themselves in the ways they are trying to," she says. "You might as well have fun in that inadequacy. I just want whatever is coming out of a character's mouth to be ever unpredictable."
Top image: Lanxing Fu, Kate Schroeder, Kate Benson, Manny Rivera, LaToya Lewis and Laurena Allen in some higher glimmer in our landscape of flat. Photos courtesy of Buran Theatre.