Counter-Balance Theater returns to UC Irvine as part of the Chancellor’s Illuminations initiative with “Elsewhere” — a play based on the Kazuo Ishiguro’s book “Never Let Me Go.” The production questions the boundaries of medical ethics and explores the universal-timeless search for self-identity.
The play chronicles the lives of English boarding school students at Hailsham School who seem different from other “typical” students. Their teachers, known as “guardians,” urge them to be creative and make art. Initially, the students are unaware that there is something different about the way they are treated, but as the play moves on, we see them becoming increasingly mindful of the weird secrecy surrounding Hailsham.
As with every play directed by Annie Loui, movement plays a major role in this production.
Every expression — and even simple gestures — kept the narrative compelling and made the production believable. These subtle details allow us to understand the students’ angst in a way that words alone can’t.
Using actors’ bodies to make inanimate objects such as a chair, stepping stones in a marsh, gates, desks, windshield wipers and so much more is something I found fascinating about this performance. Meaning transcends speech, and Loui’s truth is spoken as much through movement as through words.
Eventually, both the characters and the audience members find themselves with more questions than answers. The protagonists’ need to understand the circumstances of their existence resonates with viewers. Nearly everyone struggles to find their own identity at one point or another, and it’s an endeavor which can take years or even lifetimes. As the play demonstrates, the question of our identity is one without a simple answer.
The ethical dilemmas of organ donation and cloning are foreshadowed throughout the play, and epitomized in the latter half’s major reveal; is indisputably thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating. It is a genuine reflection of the often-ambiguous intersections between science, humanity, identity and morality that deliberately forces the audience to reevaluate their own beliefs and ideas.
“Elsewhere”’s minimalist production — with just six actors, three lights and no props — is a testament to the actors’ and crew’s skill.
Constructing physical theater from great literature (Counter-Balance’s goal) is as difficult as delicate surgery or complex formulas. Director Annie Loui and her team have truly done a remarkable job in bringing “Elsewhere” to life.