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Carnival Round The Central Figure

This vaudevillian meditation on mortality is alternately moving and frustrating.

Danni Simon and Ted Caine in
Carnival Round The Central Figure
(© Deneka Peniston)
Diana Amsterdam's Carnival Round The Central Figure, now at IRT, is a vaudevillian meditation on mortality, weaving a deathbed scene in-between gospel numbers from a fictitious evangelical TV show. Despite the fine efforts of director Karen Kohlass, these transitions are often jarring and the dialogue is often maddeningly repetitive and frustrating in its circuitous nature.

Amsterdam states in the program notes, "the last moment of life is all of life to the dying person...if we can walk with her to the border and let go, we have served that person's entire life." It's a thought-provoking statement that serves as a mantra for Kate (Danni Simon), who is deeply moved to be there for the final moments of a terminally ill co-worker (Ted Caine) despite not knowing him very well.

Simon exudes a radiant compassion that helps drive the show, filling in gaps in the script regarding Kate's motivation (or obsession) for staying in the hospital room. Unfortunately, it's still not enough to keep Kate from feeling like a mouthpiece of the playwright. It doesn't help that many of her lines are repeated scene after scene. Surely, that has been done to illustrate the monotony of hospital visits and the difficulty for people to express themselves in such situations, but it grates on the audience.

One of the most powerful moments of the show is when a choir enters, and each member pauses, looking intently at the audience and radiantly stating, "I'm not going to die." It's a chilling declaration that cuts into the inherent illogic of belief while simultaneously exalting its appeal. We want to believe the preacher when he bellows, "death is not a curse!", but wince when he suggests that a terminally ill teenage girl is dying because she had premarital sex.

While these evangelical choir scenes provide many of the show's dramatic highlights, they also prevent a deeper conversation on the often-conflicting thoughts and emotions surrounding our mortality.

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