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A CurtainUp Review
At New York Theatre Workshop, the stage transforms into a laboratory for the several sites of Eckert's story. Upstage, vertical chalk boards on easels spell out the word "HORIZON." Reinhart Poole (Eckert) sits in front of them at a folding table, possibly preparing to teach his last class at the seminary from which he has just been fired, perhaps writing a dramatic parable.
Downstage, designer Alexander V. Nichols has artfully situated up-turned sawhorses and several piles of cinderblocks. Here Mason #1 (the excellent David Barlow) and Mason #2 (Howard Swain), the characters in Poole's parable, alternately build and take apart a wall. Indeed, these Everymen, who remind one of Beckett's stranded pair in Waiting for Godot, have been building this wall for 1,750 years and are terrified that Poole will give up on his play, depriving them of their existence.
Other stories emerge throughout the intermissionless performance: Poole's relationship with his minister father (Swain) and radical, extroverted brother (Barlow); his interaction with the cowardly seminary head (Swain) who has fired him for iconoclastic statements; the affection for his wife, Patricia (Barlow), the only person who can distract the theologian from intellectual pursuits. But the parable of the wall-builders is the piece's center.
In previous work, notably And God Created Great Whales (2000), about a piano tuner and would-be composer trying, despite failing memory, to write an opera based on Melville's Moby Dick, Eckert combined a subtle tale with delicate theatricality. As produced in New York by the Foundry Theatre, there was a magicality about Whales which reviewing the piece for CurtainUp, Les Gutman called it ""stunningly beautiful." ( see review). By contrast, Horizons feels like a heavy-handed, if passionate, response to the issue of rigorous religious belief versus intellectual freedom. Eternally building a wall is an over-used image, both intellectually and visually. It seems that we have no sooner digested Poole's classroom questions (what happens when you write "Judgment" on the blackboard and then put "God's" before it?) than we are asked to consider another problem from Philosophy 101: the photograph of an "empty" field on a bright day. Is the field truly empty or, as Poole asks his students to contemplate, have the horses just moved outside the frame, and is it the absence of the horses that the viewer should ponder? Where is the meaning, and is meaning always self-evident? Should we ignore restrictions and frames?
Eventually we sense that, in the manner of many a postmodern work, Horizon is looking at several issues from a variety of angles and offering no solutions, only more questions. Perhaps the director, David Schweizer, who staged Whales so imaginatively, became somewhat strangled by this new text. The questions Eckert raises about limits and breaking bounds, about horizon, are urgent, and the theater, with its history of challenging the status quo, is a fine place-maybe even one of the last places--to examine them. But one longs for the imagination of a Robert Wilson, to leaven the frequently trite spoken text with original and fanciful theatricality.
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Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide