By Alex Miller
Nathan Gebhard walks down the wooden floors of Torn Page, a historic theater in Chelsea. His outfit, designed by Clara Cavins Wolford, is simple: a brown jacket, a white shirt, no shoes or socks, and gray slacks. He will remain in movement throughout the entire piece. His twirls, plies, bursts of energetic vibrations and wild gesticulations pair well with the extremely disjointed nature of the play.
A soft blue light appears above our heads, near the street‑facing windows; the ceilings dwarf us at about 12‑15 feet. The live music performed by violinist and vocalist Natalia Steinbach begins in earnest, with very flowing and pleasant cohesiveness, but it quickly unravels as the play spirals further and further into the abyss of confusion.
“It’s easy to die. To drown. You must breathe in water but not cough,” says Mr. Gebhard as his first character, Consuela. Headstand. Laughs. We learn that Consuela’s plane crashed into an ocean. The water breached and flooded the cabin, lifting her up to the ceiling of the aircraft as she gulped in the water. Ms. Steinbach’s awkward plucking of the strings created a cacophony of discord. Consuela reminisces about her lost love. “A love like this is a serious illness. A love from which you can never entirely recover.” And this is where things really devolve into madness.
We see back‑and‑forth scenes, or rather, specks of scenes, between her house and the plane crash. Consuela’s ghost alternates between the memory of the crash and the memory of her husband’s now empty house. “My hands seen by rescue boat,” she says, back at the plane’s wreckage again. Pulling her into the rescue boat, the rescuers forgot to bring a respirator. That is where she died. I stare in anticipation, hoping that this will all come together at some point.
Next, we’re in the cockpit of a downed plane. A French pilot, presumably based on Antoine de Saint‑Exupéry, whose plane crashed in 1935 in Egypt, is surrounded by sand. The sand begins to sprout trees and marble statues.
By the end of this incohesive play, I had more questions than answers, and felt unfulfilled. Still, I appreciated the themes of death, life, loss and displacement. I give high marks for the attempt, the willingness to try something so exploratory. Stellar praise goes to Mr. Gebhard, who based his performance on the classic 1943 novella, “The Little Prince.” But some art forms don’t lend themselves well to adaptation, and “Saint Ex” is one example.
Performed by Nathan Gebhard
December 18, 2018 at 7pm, January 5 at 3:30pm
Photo by Jody Christopherson, courtesy of the production
435 W. 22nd Street
New York, NY
ALEX MILLER, a Chicago native, has been a professional writer and editor for 6 years. He joined the Navy in 2004, and served for four years in such places as Haiti, Iraq, and Somalia. He has a degree in Public Engagement from The New School, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Forbes, The New York Daily News, and QZ, among others. He lives in Harlem.