An EPIPHANY confused by the vagueness — Review
There is no account for alchemy, fruitful or withering, when assembling a piece. You can edit the script online, set the stage, assign roles to your best ability, but once a production is underway, it’s gone. This is perhaps what explains the colossal imbalance which finally tips the scales, in the last fifteen minutes of Brian Watkins Epiphany, who had regularly leaned towards Marylouise Burke throughout the evening. The work, which premiered in the United States in the intimate Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, did not survive this inequality.
Set in a creaky old house – the Clue board game nestled in John Lee Beatty’s well-appointed setting is surely more than just a coincidence – it sees the nervous and lovable Morkan (Burke) welcoming disparate guests for a celebratory dinner Epiphany, the lesser-known Christian holiday commemorating the revelation by the Magi of the exalted pedigree of a certain baby. If you weren’t aware of the festivities, well, neither are most of the guests.
Reunited partly because of Morkan’s grandmotherly attraction, partly because the popular Gabriel should appear and give a speech, neither of them are too sure what they are doing together (there is Index Again!). They gradually introduce themselves as the restless Morkan welcomes the eight of her planned nine guests: Aran (Carmen Zilles), the newest arrival and Gabriel’s “partner”, explains that he can no longer come.
Their conversations are designed to be erratic, fraught with awkward interruptions and pauses. They are all, with the exception of Morkan, haughty intellectuals just self-centered enough to recognize their flaws, but too set in their ways to change. They talk about climate change, the politics of fear, and the fact that we’re all going to die soon enough. More wine?
But it’s not Knives out Where get outIn place Epiphany aspires both to absurd existentialism in its forced discomfort and to classic conversational table theater in its premise. Sprinkled all over the place, like the gin that one of them almost pours on his accidental stab wound (because the stuffing is also rearing its ugly head!), is a slew of religious connotations that remain unnecessarily obscure despite the heaviness with which they are posed.
“You are saints for coming here,” Morkan told his guests. Uh-huh. Everyone is waiting for a distant Gabriel to come and deliver. Yeah. The prophetic-looking, angelic-voiced Aran wears neutral dresses that suggest Yeezy Season 17. Mmmm!! All this signals too much, but means too little.
And then Burke, whose performance thus far has been a masterclass in physical spontaneity, delivers a speech so incredibly devastating that I felt revolted at the previous 90 minutes. None of the undergraduate thesis that preceded could prepare an audience for the weight of its revelation, nor the force of its delivery. And just when I thought she would carry the piece towards enlightenment, she plunges back into darkness through turns of writing.
That Burke could flex her acting muscles isn’t an epiphany, but that she could transcend the realm of muddled writing into pure dazzling? It’s a revelation.
Epiphany is performing through July 24, 2022 at the Lincoln Center Theater on West 65th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.