Proximity Theatre Company takes its name from an improvisational exercise in which a group of actors makes a single shape with their bodies touching. “Coming into proximity” is more than a game for these young performers; it’s a metaphor for art, and for life.
“If you come together that way,” Proximity director Kyra Lehman once explained, “you can create beautiful stories.”
Along with her colleagues, composer Ken Urbina and playwright Karina Richardson, Lehman first presented The Marvelous Story of Shandy Wilkes in 2009. Richardson’s original script tells the story of a girl born with mirrors behind her eyes: mirrors that reflect whatever the person looking into those eyes most loathes about himself. Reworked this year for a cast of seven performers and four musicians, Shandy Wilkes is a playful, polished, and affecting work of physical theater.
Like Proximity itself, the play is concerned with human connection and lack thereof. Little Shandy, played by Chiara Perez del Campo, yearns, like all children, to be seen. Her mother refuses to look her daughter in the eyes, preferring to buy her designer sunglasses. As played by Richardson, Ms. Wilkes is shrill and fantastically narcissistic. The toes of her right foot are curled in on themselves in a manifestation of perpetual tension. Meanwhile, the kids at school—and even Principal Tupp (Ian Wexler)—learn to fear and shun Shandy. She finds solace in her imaginary friends: a hyperactive unicorn with a Cockney accent and a penchant for coconuts (Jake Himovitz), and a rather fastidious dragon concerned with Shandy’s moral development (Gabriela London). Himovitz also plays Hymn, the only boy at school too innocent to react to Shandy’s gaze, and later, the man who loves her.
This year’s smaller cast requires most actors to play multiple characters, and much of the joy of this production happens in the transitions. Siena Perez del Campo is brilliant as Maria Carmen, Shandy’s sympathetic old granny. Then she whips off her glasses, drops her cane, and adopts a scowl to play Jess, the sarcasm-dripping, smack-talking teen. Her sidekick, Mol, is an equally believable adolescent (“I thought you gave me that hair tie,” she whines into her cell phone; “I thought you said it made you look fat”), but she’s also brilliant as Tabitha, the schmaltzy talk-show host with a gravelly smoker’s voice and a butt-twitching dance that signifies a commercial break.
Much of what drives Shandy happens downstage left, where Urbina and his fellow musicians create a stunning range of sounds: crashing cacophonies, catchy refrains, TV jingles, even well placed passages of silence.
What’s clear from this show is that Proximity brings both playfulness and earnest dedication to the work of pushing beyond fear and forging human connections. Hallelujah.