The connection between a mom and her daughter can run deep. Especially when it’s only the two of you, you’re tight in each other’s orbit, your worlds intersect in inextricable ways. And that is Nicky and Naomi, the mother-daughter duo at the heart of The Aleph Complex, now on stage at Alleyway Theatre.
This is a new play, a world premiere, winner of the 2020 Maxim Mazumdar New Play Award. It’s quirky, original, and unexpectedly thought-provoking in the way that it lingered and niggled in my head.
Nicky Stamats (“my last name is a palindrome,” she said by introduction (played by Caroline Kolasny) is a twitchy and anxious college freshman, an English major who is using shadow puppets in a class presentation. As midterms loom, her inner heart-voice calls her home to mom (Sara Kow-Falcone), a designer who hasn’t left her apartment in five years. Their anxieties co-mingle: Nicky escaped a major milestone in her first months away from mom while Naomi was happily in her solitary safe space. Nicky’s coping mechanism is to imagine trapping her fears in plastic boxes (conveniently, she had worked at The Container Store) where they become more cope-able sounds. She’s convinced she can help her mom by grabbing up some self-help books from the last Borders store on the planet, located in the same strip plaza as her former employer. It’s there that she meets a bookseller (Josh Wilde) with his own issues: he can’t leave his store. He lives in his store. His store and its contents haunt him and hurt him. Yet in the backroom, there is the Aleph, his version of the time-space continuum portal (Think of the backroom of the diner in Stephen King’s 11/22/63.) Nicky and Borders Guy are drawn to each other; Nicky shares a treasured photo she found of her mom, backpacking through Europe in her youth and their unspoken wonder of ‘what happened’ is wistful, palpable. She also knits him a sweater with one loose yarn; there’s lots of metaphor here. Yarn is another word for story. Strings hold us together and can also let us go.
There’s more to this richly layered and nuanced story. Inspired by Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges’ writings, there are metaphors galore and a myriad of mysticism against a backdrop of anxious emotions.
If this all sounds a little ‘out there,’ it is. The characters are endearing and the actors are solid in their roles. Kow-Falcone is especially interesting; we’re used to seeing her portray strong, empowered women, and here she’s more comfortable with shadow puppets than people. Kolasny and Wilde will be terrific to watch in future roles.
The set is nothing short of spectacular. First off, it’s huge, and uses every bit of Alleyway’s compact stage. Lynne Koscielniak and Nicholas Taboni built a two-level masterpiece that combined Naomi’s apartment, The Container Store, and Borders in one place. There’s some charming theatre magic crafted by puppet designer Caitlin McLeod to depict movement between Naomi’s apartment and the stores, too. Aaron Bowersox and Hudson Waldrop had oodles of light and sound cues respectively to craft and manage that added some of the more dreamlike moments. The visual and aural experience underscored some of the more poignant points of playwright Deborah Yarchun’s story and locked it into a good place.
All told, The Aleph Complex is the kind of interesting theatre that is Alleyway’s hallmark. Get there before it closes March 4. The show runs just under two hours with one intermission. Visit alleyway.com for details and tickets.