Existence Review by Jen Bush
At some point in time, we have all pondered our own existence. Why are we here? How did we get here? Are we really here? We might actually be in cryogenic chambers en route to the safety of a planet we never heard of while we dream of the reality we are currently living. Ponder that for a while!
In Existence we meet 3 graduate students of philosophy, Enrique, Loria and Matthias. They attend a lecture at their philosophy institute given by descendants of the greatest existential philosophers like Sartre. At the end of the lecture, the faculty announces an essay contest. The task is to write an essay on existence. The scribe of the winning essay wins $10,000. There’s a lot of existing that can be done with that money. Enrique, Loria and Matthias are all chosen to participate in this contest. They, along with Enrique’s girlfriend Beatriz who is more of a knitter than a thinker, decide to explore the boroughs of New York City to spark inspiration. Considering that New York City encapsulates every demographic known to man, it’s a wonderful place to observe and contemplate life.
The stage is set up with three video screens, one on each side and one in the back. The content of these videos are as much a part of the play as the actors are. They provide the sights and sounds of the cityscape as well as a whole other cast of fascinating characters only seen on video. Enrique, Loria, Matthias and Beatriz see a lot and go through a lot as they pursue their perception of existence. They come upon a violent protest. They take Covid tests. They laugh, dance and argue. In the end, they don’t get to all five boroughs, but they have enough material to write the essays. The way they announce the winner might mess with your mind.
The journey of the main characters running into all sorts of strange places and situations along the way was evocative of The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. The mix of realism and surrealism put the play into the zone of The Twilight Zone. The clever content of the video footage upped the ante of interest. Though accessible to all, this play would have a high appeal for philosophy/philosopher enthusiasts and individuals who enjoy intellectual pursuits.
David Willinger wrote and directed a thought-provoking piece of theater executed in a unique manner with utilization of the video components. The vivacious valedictorians were played by Ervin Vazquez, Hanna Ventura, Espirito Domingo and Sharendelle Murga. They all gave a passionate, robust and energetic performance. The actors on video playing a range of colorful characters were also fabulous. If you get a chance to see Existence, don’t think about it too hard. Leave the profound thinking to the characters and just go to enjoy the show.