By Hailey Nuthals, Arts Editor
Some theater makes you think and question things. Some theater makes you scared. Some makes you laugh. Few pieces manage to do all of these, but “It’s Chill,” written by Isabelle Barbier and directed by Michael Malanga for this year’s New York International Fringe Festival, accomplishes the feat. Its simple setup follows the lives of five young adults living in New York, and peers closely at the gaps the lives they live and the lives their companions see them living.
We open on a messy apartment, home to Sophie (Elénore Ley) and her boyfriend Sam (Theo Maltz). They’re throwing a birthday party for Sophie’s best friend (and Sam’s ex-lover) Annie (Barbier) – or they’re trying, anyway. The pair are literally a mess, each a composite of bad habits and poor hygiene. As the audience learns through carefully inserted asides, this party is a big deal. Annie wants to feel loved and special, despite the fact that her hosts are the only ones who didn’t bail on the party; Sophie wants to seem like she has it together in front of her independent and always-on-top-of-her-life friend; and Sam wants to glean even the tiniest of answers as to why Annie never gave him the time of the day, much as he loved her.
Bumble after fumble after Freudian slip go down, and so does the inevitable drama. The truth, after all, must come out. Between the tension from Sophie and Sam and the even-higher tension between Annie and her sort-of-ex Nick (Michael Malanga), you could practically start a fire from all the fuming. Each character’s asides become less of a comedic prop and more of a confessional moment. The feeling goes from laughable to cringe-worthy, in the sense that the events are relatable in a painful way. Genuine fear starts to brew. What if Sophie’s not as in love with Sam as much as she needs him? What if Sam’s lingering feelings about Annie are actually something to give a second thought? What if Annie ends up alone because she can’t or won’t open herself up to being vulnerable with another person?
Situations escalate, and only the perfectly timed and desperately needed moments of comic relief keep the play from becoming a sort of apocalyptic panic attack performed in front of an audience. It’s concerningly relatable – if this many members of the audience leave with their hands on their hearts trying to cope with what they just saw, is there something wrong with us all? The dialogue, whether arguing or bemoaning, joking or not, is perfectly delivered. There’s never any pause for another actor’s cue, or clunky phrasing, or words that simply fall flat. One almost begins to wish that the acting was bad, so they’d have something less increasingly uncomfortable to focus on.
One thing’s quite certain, and easily answerable – if “It’s Chill” can have the sort of impact where one feels inclined to question their entire lives, it’s got some frighteningly powerful writing, highly commendable acting, and more than a little expert directing. Or, to say it bluntly, nothing’s chill.
“It’s Chill” played as part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival.