May 19, 2014

nytheater now: Play for Today: Downward Facing Debbie

Geri-Nikole Love and Christopher Tierney in a scene from DOWNWARD FACING DEBBIE | Andrew Block

Today's Play is another one that has just opened at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity: I LOVE that we are bringing scripts to our audience concurrently with some of the productions happening at his event in NYC's East Village at the Paradise Factory Theater.

And I Love this play! It's called Downward Facing Debbie and it's written by David Caudle. It plays at Planet Connections through June 7th, where it is directed (brilliantly-with with and economy and real prowess) by Andrew Block, and presented by Project Y Theatre Company.

Has there been a play about yoga before? I can't think of one. Most of Downward Facing Debbie transpires in the Yin Yang Studio, which is a very trendy yoga emporium in the Hamptons on Long Island. There is a fair amount of yoga in the piece, which will result in the fittest and most centered cast in New York City, one imagines; the ideas of yoga practice really pervade David's play, in a smart and valuable way: this is a play about how you heal yourself, and about now honesty and focus and spiritual fitness are the tools toward finding one's way.

Into an advanced, and rather exclusive, private yoga class one afternoon lopes our eponymous heroine, Debbie. She reveals in short order that her life is in serious disarray (I don't want to give away details here), and Anduin and Li, the two women who run the studio, decide to let Debbie stay, even though she's a yoga novice. The other three students in this class are Bob, a middle-aged entrepreneur with marital troubles; Claudia, a very wealthy and demanding woman of "a certain age" with serious self-esteem issues;; and Tate, who is described in the script as "a blond god in his early 30s." One of the things that Debbie needs to deal with is her felling of abandonment by her family. Will yoga, and specifically these other yoga practitioners, be able to fill that gap?

The play proceeds humorously and big-heartedly, sorting out a v variety of issues and potential couplings among these six characters. Everyone's humanity-by which I mean their frailities and flaws AND their innate nobility and worthiness-is explored and appreciated. But no proven: the complicated nature of humanity is a given here, which is as it should be.

The writing is sharp and often very funny. Here's a sample, which I picked more or less randomly, from early in the play:

ANDUIN: Do you know how many times you rolled your eyes today? Laughed at the poses. Sneered at the chants. If you can adjust your attitude, you're a natural at this.


LI: You've got incredible extension.

BOB: Me and Claudia can barely touch our toes.

CLAUDIA: Before yoga I couldn't touch my knees. I had a back injury as a child. I've been plagued with horrible pain. Horrible! Anduin-and Li- Have taught me to rise above the pain.

DEBBIE: You do great. I'm the one who keeps falling.

ANDUIN: Yoga's about trying, not achieving.

TATE: Here, Debs. I'll show ya somethin super easy.

LI: I got it, thanks. Feet together, hips aligned, palms forward. Shoulders relaxed. Relaxed.

CLAUDIA: They're shoulders, not ear muffs. That's what Li used to say to me. She's correct, if a bit gruff.

I predict a long and healthy life for Downward Facing Debbie-the combination of yoga and wise humane comedy should serve to make this a play that lots and lost of companines all over the world will want to do. Check it out on Indie Theater Now.

For now, see it at Planet Connections, where it is being performed by a truly exemplary company that includes the hilarious Karen Stanion as Claudia, the wry and astonishingly limber Christopher Tierney as Tate, Jordy Lievers as Debbie, Geri-Nikole Love as Anduin, Esther Chen as Li, and Dan Patrick Brady as Bob. They all bring their characters to life quite brilliantly. And they execute the yoga choreography by Love, Tierney and Meital Bat Or with grace and precision-There's a sequence in the center of the show that I promise you will enjoy watching.

This really does feel like one of those times when we're seeing the making of a big hit unfolding. And I'm not just saying that because I published it-but I an darned proud that I did!