At a certain point during A Thought About Raya, somewhere after Paul Thureen's hands are replaced with giant silverware, but before Hannah Bos ate an entire stick of butter, I accepted the fact that the piece was quite simply never going to make any sense to me. But when it finally registered that I didn't know what was going on, a weird thing happened: Instead of getting angry like I usually do when I don't understand things, I realized I was genuinely enjoying Raya's stylish blend of humor, pathos, and non sequitur.
Raya was originally developed and produced in New York by the Debate Society company, and it's revisited here as a collaboration between Insight Out Theatre Collective and Debate Society members Bos and Thureen. The show consists entirely of Bos and Thureen slipping between characters and scenarios as they act out selections from the writings of early 20th century writer Russian Daniil Kharms.
The piece has repetitive and seemingly pointless interactions between Bos and Thureen in various guises, often having to do with sex and death and vodka (oh, Russians). It would be boring except that the mundane routines are occasionally interrupted with truly startling, electric moments. Though concepts like "character development" don't come into play here, it's evident that Bos and Thureen are very, very good at what they do. Bos in particular is pliant and expressive, yet completely disciplined, never losing control of her voice or face as she morphs from role to role.
The technical aspects of the show are key: Rarely have I seen light and sound used to such strong effect. A sudden shift in lighting changes the mood from luminous to ominous, while the sound ranges from cartoon-like effects to haunting voiceovers. These elements combine with the quirky, surprising set design to reinforce the claustrophobic yet comic impact of the script.
Bad theater leaves me craving whiskey and reality TV. After A Thought About Raya, I wanted vodka and a fur hat. If that isn't a recommendation, what is?