In “Epiphany” a fun party begins. Then the ghosts come

Aside from the actors, the stars of are the set by John Lee Beatty and the lighting by Isabella Byrd epiphany, a play set in “a very old house on the bank of a great river, north of a great city.” As audiences watch David Watkins’ performance at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (opening tonight through July 24), the assumption is that we’re somewhere out there somewhere like Hudson or some other affluent enclave in upstate New York .

However, the ambiance and lighting is sumptuous and inviting: large windows, ornaments, candles, beautiful tables, chunky stairs. Snow falls gently outside the windows, the lights flicker on and off. When the play begins with no characters visible, invisible wind moves the curtains and a haunting is implied. And yes, this is a ghost show as well as a show with a very lively and fun cast of guests put together by host Morkan (Marylouise Burke).

It’s not your typical dinner party, as it turns out. Burke, as Morkan, has sent the guests a list of directions, which creates much hilarity as no one seems to have read or received their dictations – this is particularly distressingly evident when a song is about to be sung and Kelly (Heather Burns) is looking on desperately Open up air to conjure up the words or the melody. Burke is the brilliant, eccentrically whimsical all-night host, with Watkins superimposing her words and the words of her guests.

Who speaks, who answers, what is said becomes a polyphonic mashup – funny at first and masterfully done by the actor, but also a bit tiresome after a while of the repetitive hubbub. It’s not a dinner party from hell, but it is an all-too-plausible dinner party of harmless, slightly insufferable people trying to find words and drinking drinks down their throats.

Loren (Colby Minifie), a vegan who doesn’t eat gluten and now faced with a goose dish fraught with dietary dangers, has been tasked with opening doors for guests, using an intricate paging system to keep Morkan informed of who’s at the door rings bell. Shouts and greetings collide as the stage varies in emptiness and a motley arena of rushed greetings, tossed coats and poured drinks. Have everything you likesays Morkan, when actually only gin and wine seem to be on offer.

We watch as social position is fought over, conversations blossom and die, wine glasses are poured and the general wall goes down blah as the group tries to orient themselves on this mysterious evening. Her heart races as Morkan dashes up and down the stairs and into the kitchen in a whirlwind of host duties and determined party plans. keep her uprightyou think as she rushes back and forth.

Then there’s Freddy (CJ Wilson), who doesn’t seem to find his place but still catches our attention. Kelly and Charlie (Francois Battiste) and Sam (Omar Metwally – yes affair Fans, the hot Dr. Vik is alive (now with a beard and a psychiatrist!) and Taylor (David Ryan Smith) bring in some fun and tips, and Ames (Jonathan Hadary) a touch of soft urbanity.

Amid the laughter and gossip, Morkan says the party is being held to commemorate Epiphany, the festival after Christmas, which usually takes place on the first Sunday after January 1st. This festival has its own spirit, Gabriel, which is eagerly awaited – not only his presence, but also a speech on Epiphany to be given to the congregation. But he is not present, and another mystery concerns the whereabouts of Morkan’s sister, Julia.

“Our imagination has atrophied… We are no longer interested in the complexities of humanity…”

— Aran in “Epiphany”

The play delves, or at least its title floats more meaningfully into view, over confusion and disagreement over what the Feast of the Epiphany means, what the word itself means, and whether the three maji that are central to the biblical story are the same are like the three wise men. And, as Morkan says, is anyone tagging it? “What does a holiday look like die?” Tonight, she’s determined to revive it and its meaning, even if no one knows how or why.

Aran (Carmen Zilles), a stranger connected to Gabriel, arrives draped in the sort of robes that appear distinctly maji-like, and speaks the kind of holistic and healing wisdom one might expect from a maji. The party’s symbolic and metaphorical totems become more real and pronounced as she addresses her fellow guests. Something about her, not just her dress, is otherworldly. “We’ve reduced all of existence to what can be quantified, categorized, or monetized and look at what happened,” she tells her fellow guests. “Our imagination has atrophied… We no longer care about the complexities of humanity and group people and ideas by theirs external appearances unlike theirs inner depth.”

Dinner is served (and Morkan’s recitation of what’s on the table is as poetic as it is physically delicious). From that moment on — even as poor Ames suffers the kind of horrible accidental injury that elicits a collective howl from the audience — the play takes a harsh turn from a lovable, social agony comedy to a deeper meditation on social mores, with Loren a impassioned delivers speech for the need for broader cultural change. Other characters steer the conversation around themes of mortality, passage of time, and creativity. Then sadness shimmers into the painful field of vision.

These may be necessary and inevitable harsh turns to drill the play’s title, but the former fun and chatter seems far removed as the play’s seriousness lays like the cloak of night outside. epiphany‘s spirits become real, painfully so. The party becomes a séance, an incantation, a farewell and an affirmation of life. There is, as you might expect, in a piece called epiphanymore than an epiphany this epiphany, and – just as at the beginning of the play when the spirits of the evening were first announced – Beatty’s sets and Byrd’s lighting once again assert themselves as the silent stars of the evening. In “Epiphany” a fun party begins. Then the ghosts come


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