Warm. Cozy. Snug.
Saturday nights are revelrous nights in this city, replete with loudness, with exertion, with exclamation, food, drink, loud proclamatory assertions of group friendship. Replete with barfing, with cab-taking, with L-train-cursing, with planning brunch-futures. There are hardly pockets of space designated for introspection, for aloneness, for ponderous silence. Here to shift that weekend paradigm is Tiny Little Band with their show GHOST STORIES, which recently haunted Cloud City in Williamsburg.
I first met Jerry Lieblich running through Grand Central Station as we ran to catch the same train upstate. It was 2012, and Jerry had just suited up to join a writers group I was in called The Cockpit, and we were on our way to a group retreat a few hours north. Our theatrical styles as playwrights differ on the page, but our sensibilities toward making theater are very similar. Anyway, on that first train ride, we chatted about innocuous and pleasant things like rivers and college and Alaska.
Since then we’ve co-produced our plays in festivals we’ve curated together; his company with Stefanie Abel Horowitz, Tiny Little Band, has performed in evenings of performance run by my company, Fresh Ground Pepper. Oh, and both of our plays are in Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks this year. To get a sense of Tiny Little Band, they romped through the West Village with our fearless editor Dan recently; also Jerry writes for Culturebot on the regular.
So I know Jerry pretty well. And somehow, as I walked into Cloud City, through the dreamy cloth doors, and into a veritable living room-turned-gathering space late on a recent Saturday evening, I knew nothing of GHOST STORIES. I knew nothing of how Tiny Little Band had wrought or wrote it. I expected the piece to fulfill the quota of spookiness inherent in its title with moments crafted to chill bones. Instead, it soothed aches and pains and brought a sense of peace, a sense of loss to my bones. I left the show feeling taller and well-rested and more expansive than when I came. And all because of a few simple, intricate, and moving stories told in low light.
In fact, much of the play takes place in an impossibly thick soup of darkness. In these moments, the theater became one of the mind and the senses rather than spacial reality. The timbres of the voice moved through space farther than any body or object, the sounds of the words stood there, fat with presence, in the space where my eyes were focused.
Sometimes, the darkness was so thick that I would forget whether my eyes were open or closed. This is a sensation I have never felt before. Often, this dark space led my mind toward near hallucination. As one of the actors, Jihae Park, led a meditation, I was visited by faces of those not even present in any story I’d heard. I saw eyeballs and hair, gnashing of teeth, laughing women. It was as though I had been given permission to find a ghost within myself.
When a lantern turns on, or a standing lamp, or a candle, the reverie lifts and we are visited by the people speaking. They lurk in corners or on couches like ghosts maybe do. It is unassuming, it is endearing, and it is warm like tea. Each performer was channeling a mode that evoked the passing of time, the passing through of space, the moment that is over as soon as it begins. This idea, of passing through, is enforced by the text as well as the direction and design. It moved fluidly through itself, never pausing too long on a thought or a character. Persons that exist in this world never exist for long, and if they do appear again, it always seems incidental. “Oh, you. I remember you, I think.”
These glimmers of recognition lent themselves to a sense of nostalgia. Not only for moments that had come and gone, but nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. Why, after all, do we hope to be haunted? We look to the imprint of a being to affirm that there is some memory of us as we travel through our time. We hope someday to haunt someone. We hope to turn up in somebody’s eyespace, laughing, gnashing our teeth, to maybe sing a song or curl on a couch. We wish for reverence, for remembrance. And we wish that we can haunt on any given night, in a place warm, cozy, and snug, and we hope that we don’t stay too long, but just long enough.
And then we hope that the ones we haunt exit the building they are in and stumble back out onto the street, into the world that continues to bustle and move around us, without us.