What If If Only. Caryl Churchill’s ghostly new play, via NAATCO

What I can say about “What If If Only?” In short:

It’s a new play by Caryl Churchill, 82, who some consider the world’s greatest living playwright, and among the most elusive, whose work over the last half century is consistently inventive  (as New York theatergoers have been able to sample first-hand in productions over the past few years of “Cloud Nine” and “Love and Information” — both of which I found delightful — as well as “Light Shining on Buckinghamshire” — which I didn’t.)

“What If If Only” is a production of the National Asian American Theatre Company, which is live-streaming it every evening through Saturday, June 12. It is “realized” by the team of director Les Waters (known most recently for his otherwordly work with Lucas Hnath on “The Thin Place” and “Dana H.”) and multimedia theater artist Jared Mezzocchi  (increasingly acclaimed for his work on such pandemic-era digital theater as “Russian Troll Farm.”) 

The first of the play’s five cast members to speak is Mia Katigbak, who portrays a character identified in the program as S. “I was reading about this man who spent 10 years trying to paint an apple so it looked just like an apple,” she begins. “Then he spent seven years trying to paint an apple so it looked nothing like an apple. Then he died.” She wonders what kind of apple, and if he had lived would he have started in on an orange, and then asks how hard could it be to paint something that looks nothing like an apple. 

These are funny thoughts. but she is apparently saying them to a character who is himself dead, identified in the program as F (portrayed by Bernard White), but who identifies himself to S by saying: “I’m the ghost of a future that never happened.” This is cryptic, yes, but poignant.

And that’s what I can say about the rest of “What If If Only,” which seems a contemplation of grief and loss and loneliness, but not necessarily the death of specific, human loved ones but the loss of possibilities, of civilization, of Nature.  It’s less a story with characters, than a feeling; in the world of “What If If Only,” everything feels short-lived.

That includes the play itself. “What If If Only” is 14 minutes long. Tickets are $15.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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