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What Once We Felt

Ann Marie Healy's overstuffed play about a futuristic society quickly spins out of control.

Marsha Stephanie Blake and Mia Barron
in What Once We Felt
(© Gregory Costanzo)
One can readily understand the raw appeal of Ann Marie Healy's new play, What Once We Felt, now at The Duke on 42nd Street as part of Lincoln Center's LCT3 series. After all, her story is jam-packed with lots of eye-catching concepts, themes, and plots, and plays into our society's current interest in science-fiction. Unfortunately, there is so much happening that the play very quickly whirls out of control, and director Ken Rus Schmoll does very little to help keep it in focus.

What Once We Felt begins with a narrator named Violet (Ronette Levenson) who does not appear again in the play until much of the plot has passed. Her importance becomes more a matter of theme than character, undercutting any emotional impact her presence in the story might have otherwise generated.

Indeed, Violet's main purpose is to introduce us to a futuristic world that is populated entirely by women and divided into two kinds of beings: Keepers, who are the healthy and superior class, and The Tradepacks, who appear to have been some sort of earlier human experiment that failed and who are sickly and slowly dying out.

Meanwhile, an ambitious if neurotic novelist named Macy (Mia Barron) has written a book with a sympathetic Tradepack as its heroine -- and her opportunistic editor, Laura (Marsha Stephanie Blake), eventually rewrites it to use as a vehicle to hasten the demise of all the Tradepacks in the world. In fact, publishing and the way in which the population is fed both information and art figures heavily in this work.

In the meantime, we are alternately treated and pummeled by a variety of plots, subplots, and meandering threads that include a female couple and their new baby, a woman killing her Tradepack mother and going to prison for the deed, an old style literary agent recalling the days of the two-martini lunch, a diva-like publisher who is secretly a Tradepack passing as a Keeper, and a prison guard who is leading a resistance moment. (The various roles are played by the doubling-and-tripling Blake, Opal Alladin, Ellen Parker, and Lynn Hawley.)

What Once We Felt is smartly produced with an imaginative set design by Kris Stone, snappy costumes by Linda Cho, and evocative lighting design by Japhy Weideman. It is also solidly acted by the six actresses, yet, for all the portentous sturm und drang in this piece, we felt nothing. Not even once.