Bari is a middle-aged nihilist. She’s seventeen days from the deadline to complete a dissertation which she’s failed to write for the past eight years. Her job at a fulfillment center is as unfulfilling for her as her relationships with other people, herself, and the stifling world around her. But something is about to change. One day while packing shipments of “genuine” Tibetan tchotchkes – making sure to remove the “Made in China” tags from each article first – Bari suffers a fainting spell. Her coworkers Patty and Luanne, whom she’d notified moments earlier that “sooner or later everything you choose will end in grief”, are about to call an ambulance when Bari returns to consciousness.
‘Be Here Now’ is an emotional jewel-box.
Her perceptions are altered, however – for a brief moment, Bari experiences a vision which is about as far from her Nietzschean comfort zone as one can imagine. She finds everything beautiful, connected, and perfect. Without much clue as to whether the source of her reality shift is physical or metaphysical, the moment passes and Bari is restored to the stasis of her bitter cynicism. Enter Mike. Patty’s cousin, a fix-up for Bari, is Patty’s last and best attempt to fix her friend. Mike has baggage of his own, not to mention a pet crow named Hubbel. Bari and Mike collide with each other in ways that suggest the zany “opposites attract” sort of romantic farces we all grew up with. Each of them alone is weird; together they’re exponentially weirder, and yet…
This is the ingenious setup of Deborah Zoe Laufer’s “Be Here Now”, directed by the playwright for its current production at Everyman Theatre. The intimate four-hander centers on the life journeys of Bari and Mike (Beth Hylton and Kyle Prue respectively; both resident company members), with very strong support from Shubhangi Kuchibhotla as Luann and Katy Carkuff as Patty.
The show has a kind of 1990s feeling to it, from Mike’s “The Fisher King” backstory to Bari’s “Phenomenon” predicament to a delicious sound design by Sarah O’Halloran which pulls us back to a worldview that was as poignant as Aimee Mann’s lyrics or a Radiohead guitar lick. If that sensibility feels just a bit precious or predictable today it can be not only forgiven but gratefully embraced when it’s presented with kind care and virtuosity. Laufer and her cast have done precisely that. “Be Here Now” is an emotional jewel-box. Hylton and Prue are stunning; they possess a clear understanding of what the text requires and they deliver the goods with excruciating chemistry. Their characters’ connection is based on a whole lot of awkwardness and damage … or, the connection is made in spite of it … and these actors sell the story with complete assuredness.
Kudos, too, to Daniel Ettinger for a three section revolving set design that seamlessly transitions through the piece. His warehouse/yoga studio/hospital/workshop/sidewalk is squeezed down in scale and framed by a 19th-century architectural bas-relief collage.
Running Time: 86 minutes without intermission
“Be Here Now” plays through February 16, 2020, at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore. For tickets call (410) 752-2208 or purchase online.