Christopher Walken Falls Off a Ladder
Kristen Kosmas's Art of Inversion
There There begins with the absence of an actor. Christopher Walken, we are told, has been touring Russia with his one-man show based on a character from Chekhov—the troubled, troubling Captain Soleni who ends The Three Sisters by killing the closest thing he has to a friend in a duel—but has mysteriously fallen off a ladder and cannot perform.
A proofreader named Karen, who has read the script only once, explains that she was chosen to perform in Walken's place alongside a real-time Russian translator. "Tell them to pretend I have a mustache," Karen tells her translator to tell us. "Christopher Walken had a mustache, but I didn't have time to grow one." The duo eases its way into Walken's adaptation of Chekhov's play, dutifully reciting its epigraphs and pausing for its flyleaf before launching into its opening line: "Am I sorry I did it? I don't know. I'm not even sure I did it."
A collaboration between writer/performer Kristen Kosmas, director Paul Willis, and designer Peter Ksander, There There delicately and repeatedly turns itself inside out like a contortionist flower in perpetual bloom. At first, Karen's English and the translator's Russian gently entwine, but tension builds as Karen goes off script (talking about her dreams, her mistakes, and the fact that her hair is falling out) and they begin crashing into each other. "Karen!" the translator (Larissa Tokmakova) yells after one reverie about wearing a short skirt to a party and being carried around on someone's shoulders. This duet is on the verge of becoming a duel.
There There is a gorgeously cracked mirror of a play, and Kosmas's direct but emotionally intricate writing has a Chekhovian way of infusing concrete, mundane details with an urgency and yearning. "Perhaps, after all, there will be a future," Karen says wistfully. (Is she speaking for herself? Walken? Captain Soleni? All three?) "And in it we can sit around in the yard in cotton clothes, barefoot, and we won't get ticks and bees won't sting us and we won't be in love with anyone and we won't need to have jobs." In this imaginary Eden, Karen/Walken/Soleni says, we can finally enjoy a nice picnic, shove bits of bread into our mouths, and "stop talking—for just long enough."
It's as if Karen, in yet another inversion of her dizzying kaleidoscope, is trying to explain herself into silence.