Gwennie von Einsiedel and Solomon Mousley
in Eight
(© Idil Sukan)
Gwennie von Einsiedel and Solomon Mousley
in Eight
(© Idil Sukan)
A hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe -- and winner of the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award -- writer-director Ella Hickson's Eight is now making its US debut at PS 122. But this uneven and lengthy evening of eight monologues, spread out over two acts, may leave some viewers wondering what the fuss was about. And while the varying abilities of the youthful cast is perhaps to be expected, it's surprising how much the quality of the writing differs from piece to piece.

The finest of the individual monologues is delivered by Solomon Mousley as Miles, a survivor of the 7/7 London bombings in 2005, who walks away from his life after the incident believing that his survival was merely by chance and it didn't matter what he did. But his new existence of sensual pleasure and lack of responsibility becomes increasingly unsatisfying and he longs for a way back to what he gave up. Mousley captures the pain behind his character's apathetic façade, and the words he speaks have a weight and momentum that builds to a bittersweet yet hopeful conclusion.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is a piece annoyingly rendered by Alice Bonifacio as Mona, a young girl who runs away from home and her bohemian mother, and finds a new meaning to her existence in the arms of a young man (silently portrayed by Henry Peters) that she meets in a cemetery. The writing feels pretentious and overwrought, filled with heavy-handed symbolism and told in an elliptic prose style.

The remainder of the monologues fall somewhere in between. Ishbel McFarlane is amusing as a prostitute who caters to a specific -- and kinky -- clientele. Simon Ginty makes a favorable impression as a teenager infatuated with an older woman, even if the writing itself comes across as clichéd. Peters, on the other hand, is unconvincing as an Iraq War veteran who lands a job working with corpses. Holly McLay does what she can with a trite monologue about a single mother discovering the meaning of Christmas. Michael Whitham delivers some very funny lines as gay gallery owner André, while never managing to be believable as a man who has just discovered that his lover has hanged himself. Finally, Gwennie von Einsiedel has a rather interesting speech about infidelity (with Mousley silently portraying her deceived partner), but tells it in such a laborious fashion that it loses its impact.

The actress is also not the only one to have problems with excessive pauses. Hickson seems to have instructed nearly all of her cast members to deliver their lines in a slow, overly deliberate manner. Perhaps she mistakenly believed this would make the script seem more meaningful, but the end result is that the lack of variety in the pacing comes across as tedious.

In Edinburgh, festival audience members were given the opportunity to vote on which four monologues were to be presented, based upon brief character descriptions provided. That gimmick should have been employed for the New York run, as well, as it may have given the production a jolt of unpredictability, as well as made for a shorter evening. As it stands, listening to all eight of these unhappy individuals over a nearly two-and-a-half hour period ends up being a trying experience.