By Jordan Shavarebi
“The World Is Round” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Fisher Theatre is a few things. It is based on the majorly trippy children’s book by the hermetic, Modernist Mother Goose herself, Gertrude Stein. It is beautifully danced and powerfully sung by the collaborative ensemble “Ripe Time” (led by the adaptor, Rachel Dickstein). And lastly, it is guaranteed to give both the neurotic and the open-minded viewer some size of existential crisis, depending on just how neurotic or open-minded the viewer is.
Heather Christian wrote the music that makes up much of the evening’s entertainment. Christian told the Times she was influenced by Prince, Busta Rhymes and Stevie Wonder—and all of that is quite apparent. The music, no matter how seemingly improvised or how monotonously plodding, never lacks a certain groove and heartfelt emotion, which works well, given the material.
The material concerns a young girl named Rose (is a rose, is a rose, is a rose… yes, this is the story from which that oft quoted line came) slowly coming to terms with the inherent strangeness of life. She wonders why she should be a girl, and why her name should be Rose, and why anything should be the thing that we name it to be. She wonders about circles, and how, well, if the world is round, why haven’t we fallen off? And why don’t animals come up and out of the ground?
One friend of Rose’s named Willie has, at least at the beginning of the play, not been tainted by such inevitable quandaries. Willie was confident in his own existence, something the audience grew palpably jealous of as he explained it, and sang things like, “My name is Willie…I would be Willie if Henry was my name!” It should be noted, too, that Willie sat in a self-satisfied square. Rose, constantly at odds with this whole “circle” thing, was forced to sit in one herself. It wasn’t long before Willie, too, was tainted by the blistering self-awareness. It was then that the audience thought a palpable mental sigh of relief, as if to say, “Yes! One for our team. We are not alone.”
What followed all of this was what follows most existential crises: Rose set out to climb a blue mountain in the distance to prove… something. In this age plagued by social media-addicts, constantly in search for validation, it might be easy to assume that Rose was out to prove herself, to discover her worth, and to define her essential being. Still, after a rather painful fight with reality in which she can’t be sure what is actually in front of her and what is not, it seems as if Rose is pushed on this quest to prove that the mountain, quite plainly, exists. And is conquerable. And is blue.
After an arduous and frightful climb, she makes it to the top of the mountain. And you know what? It’s not blue. It’s purple. Still, she manages to sit on top of it, and her feat seems enough for her. She is alone, but she is confident that she is on a mountain, on a chair, which she has known all the time is blue—and is in fact still blue—and that’s all she needs. It’s almost as if Rose is telling us that the only way to be completely confident in our own reality (and the fact that we don’t fall off of the earth for a reason) is to live in total seclusion on a mountain. Maybe? Maybe.
The result of all of this is a sort of highbrow Dr. Seuss in the best possible way. This is thought-provoking theatre that doesn’t just talk at you. No, on the contrary, it sings, dances, and moves with you. The sets, when put into motion, dazzle, and the actors, when put into motion, too, do the same. It’s a must-see for anyone looking to get lost and found, in the very capable hands of an indisputable genius and some spectacular contemporary artistic voices.