Bigger Than I, directed by Nick Sprysenski and currently playing at Under St. Marks, is composed of vignettes centering on the notion of secrets. These short glimpses into the personal lives of certain individuals range from the childish anecdote to the perversely sexual and are presented in varying forms: some performed live, some played over the sound system from canned recordings, and others presented on screen. The filmic presentations are perhaps the most powerful and therefore meaningful. The stories seem to be the confessions of the individuals seen on screen, making their pronouncements come across as deeply intimate. Yet the camera lens only reveals the person’s eyes or lips, or a small corner of his/her face at any given moment, reminding the viewer that no matter how much we share it is virtually impossible to ever fully know another human being.
The mix of multimedia into the performance is an interesting choice, though it is not entirely integrated. It feels almost as if these filmed scenes are part of a related project on a similar theme and not a seamless element of this production. The idea of interviewing and presenting individuals' own stories from their own mouths in their own words also potentially subverts the power of having actors portray the secrets of others. The sense of authenticity that is felt when one tells one’s own story is lost when it is clear that the scene has been interpreted, and thereby altered, by an actor.
The stage scenes vary in effectiveness from the profoundly touching to the tritely over-simplistic. These performed secrets, embodied as deep dark places of the human psyche, are often too preoccupied with surface levels of humor and shock value to really move the spectator. One particularly compelling sequence involves a young Jewish man venturing to confession with a Catholic priest in order to attempt to absolve the guilt he feels over his father’s death. This scene is uniquely touching because both the young man and his confessor come across as fully human – flawed but ultimately sympathetic.
Despite the inconsistencies, the overall effect of the piece – the sum total of its disparate parts – is acutely felt. In light of all the humorous moments in the piece, I found myself leaving the theater in a state of thoughtful sadness. The play addresses real issues about interpersonal relationships, yet offers no solutions to the problems we all face in connecting with others. The play grapples with feelings of loneliness and isolation in light of our increasingly technologically connected world. The play begs the question of how alone we all really are – and not because we all have cell phones and Facebook, but because we all share one fundamental thing in common. We all have secrets. And we can continue to reveal these – be they funny or painful, performative or previously recorded – in order to gain closeness with one another.
What better art form to represent this material than theater? Theater is, after all, live, and built upon the connections between live actors and live audience. Although we may be separated by the infamous imaginary fourth wall, all of us who partake of Bigger Than I can share an experience, unique and profound. Perhaps we can even be moved to begin to disclose some secrets of our own. But maybe not all our secrets.