Meditation has met its match with playwright Emma Sheanshang in her new Off Broadway play The Fears. Anyone who has ever attempted to collect their thoughts, calm their minds, face anxieties and surrender in a New York City yoga or Buddhist center will appreciate Sheanshang’s thoroughly entertaining and insightful tragi-comedy.
Maddie Corman leads the cast as Maia, a devoted disciple of the Ashanda practice. Every week, she and six others gather in a modest, non-descript space to “touch in”; in other words, they discuss their weeks and gauge their current emotional state. There’s Rosa (Natalie Woolams-Torres) who suffers frequent panic attacks, Suzanne (Robyn Peterson) a brassy matron-like figure, Fiz (Mehran Khaghani) , an over the top gay man who uses humor to cover his pain, Katie (Jess Gabor) , a goth-like introvert involved in a cult, Mark (Carl Hendrick Louis), a struggling actor, and his girlfriend, Thea (Kerry Bishe) who is new to the group.
Group rules are fairly relaxed but participants are asked not to speak about past experience and to only focus on the present. Of course the past inevitably comes flooding back, creating opportunities for intense drama.
Not a great deal of action happens in The Fears. Under Dan Algrant’s simple but effective direction, there is minimal staging and movement. Yet it’s impossible not to connect and relate to these everyday humans who are simply trying their best to wage the endless battles of life. It is clear that Sheanshang has deep respect for meditative practice, but she isn’t afraid to poke holes through its sometimes hippy dippy nonsense. Nor does she refrain from exposing the hypocrisy of spiritual leaders who have caused more harm than help to earnest seekers of enlightenment.
While all too often we are checking our watches wondering when a show will end, these 90 minutes seem to speed by. By the end, we may find ourselves wanting to spend more time with these quirky and unique souls. For the investment of time and money, it may well be one of the best therapy sessions you’ve had.
The Fears is now playing Off Broadway at the The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th) through July 9th. For tickets and information, click here.