Julia Weinberg and Paola Sanchez Abreu by Jenny Gardner
by Billy McEntee
It may seem like a dream to live in a world without screens; untethered from technology’s iron-clad grasp on every part of our lives, perhaps we’d be less anxious and more present. In Sophie Weisskoff’s play brainsmash, however, a world without screens is less of a fantasy and more of a nightmare.
Now playing at 59E59 and produced by The Hearth, brainsmash follows Maisie (Julia Weinberg), a New York novelist who is closing in on a publishing deal when an accident causes brain trauma, making daily functions such as walking on a noisy street or working on a bright laptop near impossible. Her dependence on technology complicates, her mastery of language ebbs, and her relationships, personal and professional, dissolve.
Weisskoff’s play is straightforward but revealing: disability, let alone an invisible one, is seldom explored on stage, and brainsmash gives the spotlight, in ways raw and illuminating, to the minutiae of one person’s specific traumatic brain injury. (Per a first-person article in Curbed, the tender play seems inspired by Weisskoff’s own experiences.)
While the subject matter is distinct, the play’s mechanisms are less so. brainsmash unfolds in a series of linear scenes, all of which are about the same length and follow similar dramatic beats, making the structure monotonous. Director Emma Miller keeps the work moving along and turns in a tidy production with some fun comedic touches — the chairography of a patient visit and the ominous rising and falling of a doctor’s swivel chair lends imaginative flair.
The rest of the play, however, is less adventurous than The Hearth’s usually funky works. Scenes take on a predictable rhythm, even as actors buoy them: Julia Greer (co-artistic director of The Hearth alongside Miller), always a pleasure to see on stage, shows range as an intolerable birdwatcher and self-important children’s book author, amongst others, and Beth Griffith delights as a slew of blissfully deranged figures.
With so many characters nearing cartoonish, the play can lack nuance. Maisie is the most well-drawn character, and Weinberg finds new color in each scene, offering insight into the deepening stages of her relationship to her injury. Her ability to rise above the ridicule of peers and friends who fail to understand her new normal is a triumph, even if the play does not reach equal artistic heights.
by Sophie Weisskoff
directed by Emma Miller
Produced by The Hearth at 59E59
Now playing through March 19