Review: Reunion and Dark Pony at the John Harvard Library

Baseless Fabric are known for bringing theatre to unique settings; their last production was a pop-up opera that took place across the high streets of Merton. For their latest project, they’ve turned their attention to libraries – and in keeping with the venue bring us two quietly moving portrayals of the relationship between father and daughter, both written by David Mamet and performed by David Schaal and Siu-see Hung.

In the first, Reunion, ex-alcoholic Bernie meets his estranged daughter Carol for the first time in years. She’s gone to considerable effort to track him down, but now they’re back together the tension is palpable, and the play frequently feels more like a monologue as David Schaal’s Bernie rambles on, telling meticulously detailed stories about his life during their missing years. He repeats himself often, seemingly desperate to fill the silence and keep Carol close by. She, on the other hand, seems constantly ready to flee, perched on the edge of her chair and with her handbag always within easy reach.

Photo credit: Baseless Fabric

Their relationship is tentative and sometimes misjudged, and it would be difficult to understand why Carol’s even come, but for quick flashes of insight – like the moment she suddenly blurts out a revelation about her sex life (watching Bernie fumble for an appropriate response is both amusing and poignant) – and the play ends on a cautiously uplifting note as the two finally begin to find some common ground.

The two actors slip unseen into the space before the play begins, then move among the audience, increasing the intimacy as they draw us into their story. We then follow them along a path of feathers, to the children’s section for the second part of the show: Dark Pony, a much shorter but distinctly more upbeat piece in which a father tells his young daughter a story to pass the time on a long journey home. Siu-see Hung is particularly great to watch here as she transforms from a tense, unhappy young woman to a carefree and energetic little girl. Her enthusiasm is infectious; she obviously knows the story well and can join in with many of the words, yet constantly reacts – with fear, sadness, joy – like it’s the very first time.

Photo credit: Baseless Fabric

Dark Pony is a lovely testament to the power of stories (and particularly appropriate in the library setting), but it also serves as a perfect counterpoint to Reunion by offering a glimpse of what Bernie and Carol missed out on. Having seen the after effects of their estrangement, we’re better able to appreciate the value of the close father-daughter relationship that follows.

This is a rare opportunity to see two early works from David Mamet in a very special venue. It’s no secret that libraries have been struggling to hold their position in a world of Amazon and Kindle books; this Libraries Week it’s lovely to see them getting the appreciation they deserve.

Catch Reunion and Dark Pony at a library near you until 15th October.

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