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INVADING SPECIES and The Hollywood Dream Review

INVADING SPECIES and The Hollywood Dream Review

 


Perhaps I have a strange, blind trust in the institutions of Western medicine, more ingrained in me than I had imagined.

Whatever the reason, I spent too much on Maia Novis' new piece Invasive species I'm waiting for a wise doctor to reassure us that in reality, Maia was locked in this youth ward, an adult woman surrounded by patients aged 13 to 16, for a logical reason. That his involuntary institutionalization was somehow entirely for Maia's own benefit.

Obviously, no such scene ever happened. But I think at least Maia, the version of Maia we meet in Novis's searing, witty new work, at the Vineyards Dimson Theater through June 30, might sympathize with my Hollywood-induced brain rot. After all, she achieved her lifelong dream of becoming a movie star after watching just one movie: The Amazing Spider-Man.

Species opens with Maia discovering the Andrew Garfield-led blockbuster, wide-eyed in a movie theater in her native Argentina. As the Columbia Pictures logo music reaches its crescendo, it is filled with awe and wonder. And Maia knows what she has to do.

I left my house, I left my friends and my family, she tells us. I even left myself.

A shattered distortion of reality itself caused (in part) by the glittering allure of Hollywood fictions shapes Novis's deeply engaging new play, here brought to breathless, destabilizing theatrical life in director Michael Breslins' stripped-down staging. .

Taken from Novis's own experiences, Species follows Maia's involuntary institutionalization while she was a theater student at the Yale School of Drama. Following a nervous breakdown, Maia wakes up and finds herself in a youth center in New Haven.

Maia insists she shouldn't be there. But the quieter, grounded scenes of her treatment continue to blur with fantasies of playing Eva Peron in a film version of Avoid, her lifelong dream realized under the yoke of an oppressive English director (Julian Sanchez, particularly chameleonic in four roles) who constantly insists that Maia's Argentinian accent doesn't sound right.

The company | Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Novi and Breslin do not spare their representation of the youth neighborhood, presenting it as a cold and stifling space. The doctors are barely present, while nurse Elsa (an overly broad Rafaella Donatich, in one of five roles) is a tyrant. Maia gradually bonds with two teenage patients, Jacob (a cunning and hilarious Sam Gonzalez, six roles in total) and Akila, the de facto head of the wards. (Alexandra Maurice sticks mainly to the role of Akila, and is superb, tragically joyless, her heart beating sadly.)

Is Maia one of these children? Is she really crazy? By tracing a fractured journey through Maia's psyche, Novi complicates these questions before ultimately putting them aside. Narrow-minded teachers and a toxic industry have certainly warped her perception of herself, to the point where she performs whatever Maia the public demands. But don’t we all indulge in these fictions? And while his fellow patients are in a more immediate crisis, it's unclear whether this treatment is of much help to them.

Novi doesn't dismiss her own mental health crisis, nor does she cutely suggest, “We're all a little crazy!” Rather, she probes the absurdities of easy definitions while confronting rigid, overloaded systems in which too many people can get lost so easily.

And what's more, it's funny. Novi denounces the absurdity of the immigrant experience with a particularly scathing gag about the repetition of a goop the ad-nauseam mantra to find your Gwyneth is particularly funny. Less successful is the satire of the theater industry, which is a bit of inside jokes about forgetful agents and drug-addicted theater students that seems like well-trodden territory.

Amidst it all, Novi herself is a force of nature. It's an honest performance, never feeling sorry for himself. If the play's satire ultimately seems a little cold, just a little distanced, Novi herself provides a warm, introspective center. Maia's full identity still seems, at the end of the play, simply out of reach. But a voice takes shape, all by itself.

Invasive species is now performing through June 30, 2024. For tickets and more information, visit here.

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