|Jared McNeill, Kathryn HunterPhoto: Pascal Victor/ArtComArt|
The main-ish character is Samy Costas, an unassuming journalist who doesn't understand how astonishing her mind is until her editor sends her to, well, have her head examined. Samy remembers everything. Everything. Her brain is a compulsive producer of mnemonics, constantly churning out pictures and associations and locating them in a mental map of her neighborhood that she can "visit" whenever she wants to access her memory. But when she becomes a nightclub performer, astonishing people with her mental talents, she comes up against an unexpected question--can her brain become full? And then what?
Samy is played by the extraordinary Kathryn Hunter, and every time she is off stage, you really, really wish she would come back. The other two performers, Marcello Magni and Jared McNeill, playing various researchers, artists, and a one-handed magician, are also wonderful, and their scenes are entertaining, but it is Samy's story that most engages the heart and mind of the audience (at least this audience).
The problem with Valley of Astonishment is that much of it is old news to people who have read Oliver Sacks' books and who keep up with the ever-fascinating study of neurology and the brain. The show is elegant and often funny; the musicians Raphaël Chambouvet and Toshi Tsuchitori provide a soundscape of great beauty; and the poetry from the the Persian poem "The Conference of the Birds" is beautiful and evocative, but ultimately The Valley of Astonishment is slight. I had a good time, but if I had paid $50 to $100, I suspect that my predominant response would have been annoyance.
(balcony to the extreme side, press ticket)