Theater Review: “People, Places & Things” at the Studio Theater

Kristen Bush and Nathan Whitmer in ‘People, Places & Things’ at the Studio Theater. Photo by Margot Schulman.

The actor playing Nina in a production of “The Seagull” stumbles on one line and forgets another. Her scene partner tries to cover for her. It stumbles over a line or two, then goes blank. Ambulance sirens sound as the scene crew and medics rush to the scene. This jarring scene opens Duncan Macmillan’s “People, Places & Things,” the first play directed by David Muse at the Studio Theatre’s new Victor Shargai theater.

Kearse and Paulsen are both fascinating…the most realistic depiction of addiction and the first stages of recovery I have seen in any medium.

Kristen Bush delivers a blistering performance as Emma, ​​a brash, smart woman who thinks she can use her acting skills and wit to complete a hospital-based recovery program and earn the certification she needs. needs to get back to acting. Emma arms herself with both hostility and humor to keep those trying to heal her from getting too close to her trauma. Bush is present in every scene of the play and must exude intensity and vulnerability throughout. It’s a superlative performance.

Emma is countered by Jahi Kearse’s Mark, a sensitive patient whose caring demeanor belies the many excruciating things he did to feed his own addiction before landing in the hospital. Jeanne Paulsen plays three women who become the center of Emma’s anger as well as her need for approval – the doctor who can get her out of rehab; the group therapy counselor who has seen angry, self-righteous newcomers like Emma so many times; and Emma’s semi-distant mother. Kearse and Paulsen are fascinating, their scenes with Bush often looking more like battlefields than conversations.

The rest of the cast represent the other patients in Emma’s group. Group scenes sometimes sag a bit, running a bit longer than necessary. The actors are all great, but Macmillan presents detailed stories about each, even though some of the characters will never speak again except as voices in the crowd. A lengthy group therapy scene and a bit of redundancy in some of Emma’s arguments with Mark are the only flaws in Macmillan’s otherwise airtight script.

The technical design of “People, Places & Things” is a character unto itself, on a level rarely seen outside of a Broadway show. Bursts of sound and light (designed by Lindsay Jones and Andrew Cissna respectively), as well as fading and echoing speech effects, take us inside Emma’s mind. When the doctor shines a light into her eye during an admission medical exam, bright lights ingeniously appear on the stage walls to signify how the flashlight is hurting Emma’s eyes. Changes to Debra Booth’s set take place with Emma still on stage, the crew moving rooms around her as the lights swirl, expressing confusion over where she is and what is happening to her .

When Emma criticizes the rehab center as isolated from reality, Mark retorts that it’s the most real place there is. “People, Places & Things” is the most realistic portrayal of addiction and the first stages of recovery I have experienced in any medium. He is honest and relentless – and despises the maudlin tones and romance of many works on the subject. It doesn’t pass up an uncompromising ending that shows that while it is possible to walk through the dark tunnel, there is no true recovery ending.

Duration: 2h30 with an intermission.

Notice: This production follows characters in a drug rehabilitation program. It contains depictions of drug and alcohol use, including the characters’ return to use, and descriptions of self-harm and death by overdose.

“People, Places & Things” runs through December 11, 2022 at the Studio Theater, 1501 14th Street NW, Washington 20005. For tickets and more information, click here. Masks are mandatory in the performance space. Masks are strongly encouraged in all other areas of the building.

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