A devised project years in the making, Teatro Dramma’s expressionistic Citizens of the Gray or The Dark Thing That Sleeps Inside Me, at Theater for the New City, is a singular experience. Using a variety of texts as the starting points in their devising process, the eerie, nihilistic, Strindbergian performance hits the audience with a visceral and twisting silent terror.
Aside from some Spanish shouts, occasional screams, and omnipotent feminine voiceovers in English, it’s largely a silent movement piece. Interpersonal relationships interweave and self-destruct throughout the play. With characters identified only by serial numbers on their clothing—stunning post-apocalyptic punk grayscale costumes designed by Ivana Profeta (who also performs)—the concept of individuality and by extension free will, is annihilated. Citizens of the gray world are slaves to a despot that may or may not be imaginary. Sex is violence; true affection is fleeting and rarely to be trusted. This culture is one with strict gender guidelines, and its inhabitants blindly follow the courses they ought to follow. Teatro Dramma creates a world that stirs our most profound fears of what ours may become.
The movement work is incredibly strong. A sand-covered floor creates visual and auditory texture, while the costumes’ and set’s entirely gray palette (designed by Ella K. Schneider and Joseph Novoa) give dynamic pop to colorful props. There is clearly a linear structure to the production, but it is best experienced in waves. To live within each moment, and float or crash into the following, feels most appropriate for fully investing in the dystopian world so meticulously created. Trusting the existentialism of Citizens of the Gray or The Dark Thing That Sleeps Inside Me may be antithetical to the human tendency to seek cause, but allowing oneself to slip into the production’s stark world is the surest way to avoid allowing that stark world to become our reality.
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