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Theater: Be Here Now
by Mary Shen Barnidge

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Playwright: Deborah Zoe Laufer

At: Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.

Tickets: 773-925-8150; $42

Runs through: Oct. 19

Don't be fooled by the pop-yoga title or the deceptively New Age publicity image. In Deborah Zoe Laufer's universe, the road to enlightenment begins with a wholesale rejection of egocentric navel-gazing, not to mention "love" as defined by the romance industry.

Our play's setting is East Cooperville ( as distinct from West Cooperville, and South Cooperville ), located a mere hundred miles north of New York City. East Cooperville is a village so small that most of its population shares common ancestors, making for a reduced gene pool encouraging extensive migration. One such expatriate is forty-something Bari, whose recent homecoming is precipitated by the prospective sale of her late mother's house and the completion of her long-overdue doctoral dissertation on the subject of, ironically, Nihilism.

In the meantime, our Nietzschean disciple earns her living in the shipping room of a New Age "fulfillment center." Her fellow employees, attempting to dispel the miasmic gloom that her terminally negative world view brings to the workplace, orchestrate an introduction to their cousin Mike, a reclusive artist who dwells with a pet crow named Hubble and a grant-financed career crafting found-object shelters. Their initial encounter is nearly undone, though, when Bari succumbs to a headache triggering a seizure that catapults her into a satori-like euphoria accompanied by multi-sensory hallucinations. Is it love at first sight, or temporal lobe epilepsy stemming from a brain tumor?

Laufer could have spun this premise into a by-the-numbers medical rescue TV-movie. Bari is no helpless victim, however, but a philosophy scholar with an inquiring mind and an adult capable of making her own decisions. The source of her bliss may be a pathological life-threatening condition, but if its symptoms render her a kinder, happier, BETTER person, is it not wiser to embrace its positive symptoms, despite the danger? Or does the distress her stubborn defiance inflicts on those around her ultimately render it the MORE selfish and misanthropic enterprise? To be, or not to be?

It would have been easy—not to mention cowardly—to have buried this existential dilemma under a veneer of darkly comic shtick, but Shattered Globe director Sandy Shinner trusts in the ability of her audiences ( some of whom may, themselves, have grappled with the questions under discussion ) to maintain an open-minded approach to the options explored by Rebecca Jordan as the ambivalent Bari, along with Joseph Wiens, Demetra Dee and Deanna-Reed Foster as her tireless counselors. Don't discount the foundation for Laufer's cosmology, either—namely, a diorama of reawakening as exquisitely entrancing as a Joseph Cornell box, assembled by the technical team of Angela Weber Miller, Vivian Knouse, Shelley Strasser and Stephen Gawrit.

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