In “Endure,” a performer named Casey Howes ran through Central Park for more than an hour while we small band of theatergoers listened over earphones to an audio recording of her inner thoughts and tried to keep up with her.
Actually, we never kept up; we caught up. She would pause up the path, or at a leafy alcove, and dance or stretch or dangle from a tree, while we gathered; then she’d start running again. This might seem odd behavior for a woman who was supposed to be running a marathon, but, hey, suspension of disbelief; you want only marathon runners to be able to be in the audience? As the character explained in our ears at one point, giving herself a pep talk: “This isn’t about jackrabbits or slowpokes. it’s about finding my rhythm, doing my thing and going the distance.”
“Endure” — which is dance theater and audio theater and site-specific outdoor theater, and a hike — is subtitled “A Run Woman Show.” This is a pun, except that there are actually two women performing the character: Howes (or sometimes Mary Cavett) before our eyes, and then, in our ears, the voice of Melanie Jones, who wrote and began performing the play a decade ago.
This is the second time in two weeks that I’ve attended a play where the body and the voice were portrayed by two different actresses. The first was “Lust,” one of the plays of “Seven Deadly Sins,” starring pole dancer Donna Carnow and the voice of Cynthia Nixon playing the pole dancer’s inner monologue, which we heard through headphones. In both plays, there are practical reasons for the split; both are outdoors, allowing for both social distancing and audibility.
If there doesn’t seem that much coordination in “Endure” between what the voice is saying and the body is doing, the verbal and the visual are each lively in their own way. Jones’s monologue is a mix of you-are-there running in real time (“I’m at 44:57 that’s about what 9 minute miles and 5…30, 5:40 kilometres. gotta pick it up pick it up pick it up…”) and reminiscences. She recalls a cocktail party with smug non-runners. She eventually reveals how she got into running — how she fell in love at age 23, dropped everything to marry him, fell into a deep depression; how her husband divorced her at 26. She got interested in long-distance running as a challenge that she hoped could change her life, although she doubted she had it in her. “I couldn’t run a marathon until I became someone who could.” It’s a familiar narrative — didn’t I see a movie starring Joanne Woodward as a widow who takes up marathon running? — but its details feel authentic, and, accompanied by a soundtrack by composer Christine Owman, even the most relatively sedentary of us could feel inspired.
Meanwhile, over the course of the three miles that we walked during the play — yes, you have to walk three miles; there’s no getting around it (and there are stairs too, and hills) — the performer’s movement seemed to be echoed by a passing sparrow, and then a dashing squirrel; four teenage boys kept on eying her attentively, though hilariously trying to keep cool about it; a young couple expressed more curiousity about each other than the odd marathoner with her half dozen followers wearing imitation race bibs. There is nothing more theatrical than Central Park on a beautiful midsummer afternoon. Even the trees got into the act.
Endure: Run Woman Show
through August 3
Created, written and co-produced by Melanie Jones
Directed, co-produced by Suchan Vodoor
Cast: Mary Cavett or Casey Howes, Jones (voice)
Running (!) time: Under 75 minutes
Tickets start at $44.99,