PERISHED, Clothesline Project Theatre, at Bailiwick Repertory. Reviving Brian Kirst’s 1991 verse play in honor of National Poetry Month, the Clothesline Project Theatre and director Ellyzabeth Adler have the kind of sincere motives that distinguish this production from most revivals, motivated by profit. Tucked into the Bailiwick loft–a space as spare as the hull of an abandoned ship–this staging is full of a messianic energy. By showing us ghosts of lives destroyed by sexual abuse and domestic violence, the play hopes to transform the stories of victims into inspiration for warriors. The performers are sweetly earnest, and the script is surprisingly powerful after nearly a decade of activism promoting public consciousness of child abuse.
But Kirst’s message does seem a little dated. After an hour weaving the stories of four characters together, bringing each to the brink of suicide, he exhorts us (through them) to survive and thrive, a call to action that signals the end of the play without offering a path to success. The work’s emotional appeal lies in its assumption that choosing to survive is tantamount to survival–a dangerous assumption in a culture that institutionalizes long-term therapy enforcing the victim mentality and that stigmatizes activism as counterproductive to an individual’s healing. Nonetheless, several audience members were visibly moved by the plainly staged struggle in Perished the night I attended. I suspect this play will find an appreciative audience.