Contemporary adaptations of Greek tragedies often feel heavy-handed or pretentious. Not so with Eric Winick’s Rearviewmirror, a modern-day riff on Euripides’ The Bacchae. The playwright uses just the right amount of his source material, while infusing the play with pop cultural referents and creating engaging characters to fit the story he wants to tell — all brought to vivid life by a trio of outstanding actors under the expert direction of Carl Forsman.
The play is structured as three intersecting monologues. Penn (Mark Alhadeff), an aspiring screenwriter, grew up as a Reform Jew and views actual religious practice and beliefs with some skepticism. Yet he has a fetish for Orthodox Jewish women, who he says “are like catnip to me.” He meets Agatha (Audrey Lynn Weston), who has recently returned from a trip to Israel that has inspired her to become more observant, including dressing more conservatively. Naturally, this makes her more attractive to Penn, and the two begin dating.
Shortly after they move to New York together, however, they begin to drift apart. Agatha meets a singer named Michael Dionne and becomes part of his rabid fan-following. Meanwhile, Penn hooks up with Inez (Sarah Nina Hayon), an Orthodox Jewish woman who has left her unhappy marriage.
Winick skillfully weaves in his references to The Bacchae without letting them overwhelm his narrative until the climactic scene towards the end of the play. If you’re familiar with Euripides’ tale, you probably have a good idea about Penn’s ultimate fate, but Winick throws a few twists into the plot to keep things interesting.
The playwright’s use of the Greek tragedy as inspiration has more to do with his exploration of religious fanaticism, as embodied by the character of Agatha. Her trip to Israel — where she becomes so zealous in her desire to relocate to the Jewish homeland that her parents have to drag her back to America “scratching, kicking, biting” — foreshadows her later behavior once under the spell of Michael Dionne. Yet, the inclusion of Inez’s story complicates the play’s attitude towards religion. Her journey within Rearviewmirror is the most compelling, as well as the most complex.
Forsman stages the play simply, but with a careful attention to pacing and rhythm. The 80-minute production flies by with never a dull moment. The actors are seated on barstools on an otherwise bare stage, and speak directly to the audience in first person narrative. While they never touch, they do occasionally interact. They’re actively listening at all times, subtly reacting to the words of whoever is talking.
Alhadeff is absolutely charming as Penn, but also makes clear the character’s flaws and short-sightedness. His facial expressions convey a range of emotions and desires, and his silent reactions are often priceless. Weston has a quirky, vibrant presence that is at first disarming and later disturbing. The transformation she undergoes within the play is well-handled and avoids cliché. Although on stage the entire play, Hayon’s Inez enters into the narrative fairly late. Once she does, however, she is instantly riveting.
All three performers bring out the humor within Winick’s script — which is often very funny, indeed — while also plumbing its emotional depths.