In Chasing the River, a young woman recently released from prison returns to her childhood home after the death of her aunt, and is confronted with the dark history of abuse and trauma she has tried so hard to put behind her. Set on the front porch of her run-down family home, this intimate play written by Jean Dobie Giebel has a voyeuristic quality like you’ve intruded on people in the middle of the worst moments of their lives.
The drama is raw and unflinching with a dash of humor to keep things from seeming too bleak. The cast is excellent, especially Christina Elise Perry as the protagonist, Kat. The script requires her to switch between scenes in the present and flashbacks to the past in the blink of an eye and she handles each transition expertly. Her performance is layered and nuanced, her body language and facial expressions realistically conveying the coiled-tight tension of someone suffering from PTSD.
The themes of the show are weighty and topical but the show doesn’t seem to be trying to make a broad political statement, instead keeping a tight focus on Kat’s emotional turmoil and relationships. This makes the story more relevant to every audience member. The narrative’s compassion for Kat is evident even and perhaps especially in her lowest moments.
The show has a compact run time of 90 minutes with an intermission that feels unnecessary and breaks up the flow of the show. The first half has a steady escalation of tension that comes to a head with the sudden reappearance of Kat’s long-lost sister, which dissipates when the lights come on. It takes a little while for the second act to restore this tension which makes me think that the show might be stronger with no intermission.
Despite the hopeful note on which the story ends, the subject matter is heavy and grim and may be triggering for some people. Theatregoers uncomfortable with frank depictions of domestic violence and discussion of sexual assault should be wary. The theater seems conscientious of this and includes content warnings and survivor hotlines in the program.
Chasing the River can be difficult viewing but it is a soulful story about a woman searching for a glimmer of hope in her desolate life. When she finds it, the weight of all of the traumatic scenes seems worthwhile.
Chasing the River opens on February 10th and runs until February 29th at the Chain Theatre (312 West 36th Street, 4th Floor)
Tickets can be purchased at http://www.chaintheatre.org/calendar/chasing-the-river