When we all heard that the Brandeis theater was doing a production that would take place in an outdoor tent outside of Spingold Theater, we knew we had to go. Live performances had been gone for so long due to the coronavirus, so we were eager to support our fellow Brandeisians and experience the joy of watching art happen right before our eyes. Additionally, we heard that the play would be about the power of nature and the outdoors, a sentiment that we can all get behind. Though we may have been confused during most of the show, all three of us enjoyed “In The Empty.”
Something that we all really appreciated and could not stop talking about was the music and choreography of the film. The most impressive aspect choreography-wise was the way Amber Bartlett ’22 played the white lizard. The mannerisms, footsteps and even her facial expression expertly mimicked lizards in a way that we didn’t even know was possible. However, the greatness did not stop there: all of the movements of the actors and actresses came together in a thrilling manner that really drove how the scene felt to the audience.
Every actor, though, truly seemed to put their entire body into every action, from the turn of their feet to the expressions on their face. Their movements matched as they changed characters, sometimes being more light and airy, sometimes more heavy and large, as required by the tone of the scene.
Not only was it incredibly fun to watch the actors dance on stage in sync in an expertly choreographed fashion, but the music behind the dancing was amazing! In particular, we loved the solo by Traveler 1, played by Omer Barash ’25, the music during the Burlesque Airlines Crew number and the music during the butterfly act. John and Sasha agreed that their favorite movement was the airplane one; although they did not exactly understand what was going on, it was very funny. Flight attendants wishing you a dreadful flight in a cheery voice was just way too relatable to not be noted.
Emma’s favorite moment was the final act, a fun butterfly disco. There was a party on stage with dancing and wings and a disco ball and bubble guns. The music was upbeat; it felt like a butterfly rave. As someone who has learned Kieran Whitney’s ’23 choreography twice now (as an orientation leader and as an ensemble member in the 24-hour musical), the moment he got some creative control was clear, and that really added some extra excitement to Emma’s love of that scene.
We also appreciated the way the openness of the stage was utilized. The production was performed on a rectangular stage, open in all directions. Chairs were placed all around, but there were no bad seats. The choreography was wonderfully done to make sure actors were engaging with all sides of the audience. We especially liked when actors came off the stage to interact with the crowd. It was a type of creativity that a standard theater or dance production does not have.
One thing that concerned all of us was how cold it was outside (somewhere in the 50s), though most of the cast wore summer clothing. Not only has it been cold these last couple of days, but when they were performing outside, the sun was already down, adding to the chill in the air. We were all in winter jackets and boots and still freezing our butts off. We felt really bad for the cast and hope that they are okay!
Perhaps this is because we are not too into theater, but we feel that the overall plot of the play was difficult to understand. To us, it seemed more like a series of stories with different themes than it did one cohesive plot. As a result, we were all very confused throughout the show. Though obvious that there is some grand cohesive metaphorical glue holding every scene together, we were just not theatrically educated enough to figure it out!
The fact that there was little dialogue in the performance did not help with our confusion. The characters kept repeating that they were “in the empty” and “filled with nothingness.” These are very profound concepts—we just wish we knew exactly what they meant. The director’s notes at the front of the playbill read, “‘In The Empty’ is a metaphor for what it was like to be creative during the pandemic … The White Lizard, a mysterious friend and guide, helps them to see how nature sustains itself, and how we, as a part of nature, may also find resilience in times of adversity.” We struggled to find this connection in the performance, but also acknowledge that the three of us know very little about what it is like to be a creative.
We commend all the actors—Barbash, Bartlett, Whitney, Ruth King ’24, Anika Hahn ’25 and Alaysia Pens ’23. The show was wonderfully executed. We think director and creator Sheila Bandyopadhyay ’99 had a true vision when making this performance. Though we were sadly unable to comprehend that vision, we can agree that “In The Empty” was entertaining and an exciting way to spend a Friday night. Live theater is back at Brandeis; this was a good celebration.