It begins simply enough: Faith Helma's saucer eyes stare back at us while she empties a grocery bag. Her look is benevolent, serene, even inviting—like a human resources executive or a Krishna. But unlike any sibling I've ever known.
This is how the conceit—and problem—is unveiled in Everyone Who Looks Like You, Hand2Mouth's daring though ultimately trifling exercise in domestic drama. In the willful clash of theatrical textures following Helma's gaze, the five-strong cast flit from gripping vignettes to modern dance pieces to heartfelt musical numbers and back again, all to evoke the gauzy idea—if not always to confront the firm reality—of family.
When the production falls down, it's usually less to do with the performances than it is some finicky stage direction highlighting the theme (the benevolent gaze, which is picked up at different times by each of the performers, is particularly irksome). Conflict after conflict passes without so much as a raise in temperature—a shouting match dissolves into a hug just when you're beginning to learn something about the characters; a video projection disappears right when you wish it would burn brighter.
There's not a dud in the cast: Helma is a necessarily quiet though substantial presence in a production that sometimes feels like an improv circle jerk; Julie Hammond hits the effervescent target Artistic Director Jonathan Walters has optimistically hung in front of the entire ensemble (her version of the benevolent stare being the most grounded and least silly); Liz Hayden applies the right amount of slapstick to the spacious blocking; Erin Leddy commands the stage, especially when she's addressing the audience; and Jerry Tischleder manages to be charming despite being saddled with a half-shirt for much of the play.
In a confident Brecht-meets-sketch comedy strategy, the actors make no effort to assume characters, only the familial type appropriate to each scene. As such, they plant one collective foot in the self-consciously clever world of multimedia performance art (microphones are in plain view and scenes often break into pre-taped climaxes projected onto the Venetian blinds acting as stage curtain) and the other in the more winsome terrain of improvisational games.
If the production feels a little rough-hewed, that might be because it's debuting as a sort of workshop (though the company is at pains not to call it that—this current run is viewed as a "prelude" to its full premiere this autumn). The five company members collaborated on the script by wringing out their own experiences with parental infidelity and sibling rivalry, to name just two of the too-universal-to-be-entirely-interesting strands that are loosely strung through the scenes. While Walters describes the proceedings as a mash-up of performance styles, it may ring truer to call them a patchwork exposing its seams. What's important here, however, isn't the quilt itself but the style of its stitching. A bit of a letdown, sure. But give Hand2Mouth a few more months and Everyone Who Looks Like You might turn out to be more than this.