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‘The Body’s Midnight’ at Boston Court illuminates blank spaces of the mind

Sonal Shah in "The Body's Midnight" at Boston Court Pasadena (Photo by Brian Hashimoto)

“The Body’s Midnight” by Tira Palmquist — having its world premiere through May 26 at Boston Court Pasadena (BCP), co-produced with IAMA Theatre Company — makes palpable the effects of stroke on the memories of a woman and her family. Thanks to immersive staging, the audience is taken on an illuminating trip through disappearing places both on the road and in the mind.


BCP Artistic Director Jessica Kubzansky directs four actors in this story of a middle-aged couple’s physical and metaphysical road trip to see their very expectant daughter. Anne (Keliher Walsh) and David ( a warm Jonathan Nichols-Navarro) are an unusually lovey-dovey married couple whose bicker usually ends up as playful banter.

Keliher Walsh (standing) and Jonathan Nichols-Navarro in "The Body's Midnight" at Boston Court Pasadena (Photo by Brian Hashimoto)

Their smiles turn more serious about half way through as discussion of Anne’s condition — hinted at from the beginning — becomes more serious. A series of minor strokes have caused scar tissue in her brain to slowly erase her long-term memory. This maps onto her wanting to detour off their intended route to see similarly “disappearing places” such as a ghost town and glacier park.  


The poignancy of memory loss is made real in this way, but is driven home through well-timed sound and lighting effects — designed by John Zalewski and Benedict Conran, respectively — and David Murakami’s immersive video projection onto Nicholas Ponting’s hauntingly beautiful backdrop of mesh trees.

Keliher Walsh in "The Body's Midnight" at Boston Court Pasadena (Photo by Brian Hashimoto)

A dusty desert highway, a colorful Grand Canyon at dusk, a wooden ghost town and a rustling aspen forest are among the places we get to “visit” along with the couple through these effects. But we also get to visit Anne’s mind as we see the forest’s dendritic tree branches morph into electrically charged synapses, illuminating the vast cosmos of her brain.


These effects also help as the couple meet a “chorus” of guides at their different stops (all played by an exuberant Sonal Shah and wryly comic Ryan Garcia), who seem both literal and figurative. They interact with both Anne and David but also give Anne cryptic messages when she is alone, such as that she needs to write notes or “bread crumbs” to help her remember things.

From left: Sonal Shah and Keliher Walsh in "The Body's Midnight" at Boston Court Pasadena (Photo by Brian Hashimoto)

Perfectly synced sound and lighting changes shift the tone of these scenes into ominous when the guides interact with Anne alone, adding an element of mysticism. The messages could be coming from her own mind, or from a benevolent universe — or just from some helpful yet creepily intuitive park rangers.

Ryan Garcia in "The Body's Midnight" at Boston Court Pasadena (Photo by Brian Hashimoto)

The guides also add levity through their attachments to the places where the couple encounter them. One climate-change obsessed ranger (Shah) invites herself to have a beer with the couple at their campsite while harping about park visitors wanting to lick the glaciers before they melt. A purveyor at a ghost town (Garcia) guesses that the couple need to buy maps because everyone seems to need one by the time they get there.

Garcia and Shah also play doctors whom Anne visits in flashback, reviewing her brain scans with dry humor that alleviates the moroseness of Anne’s diagnosis. The two make commendably quick changes of costume (fittingly designed by Mylette Nora) as they flit in and out of these various characters.


Shah also portrays pregnant daughter Katie — worried about her mother and calling her parents whenever they have reception — with Garcia as her husband Wolf. When Anne and David finally reach their daughter, Walsh shines as Anne emotively telling the new baby about her situation, having come to terms with the inevitability of change and disappearance, both in the world and within her mind.

From left: Ryan Garcia and Sonal Shah in "The Body's Midnight" at Boston Court Pasadena (Photo by Brian Hashimoto)

Though the play’s theme of memory loss from stroke is increasingly relevant as cases escalate (including among younger people), it’s not often rendered on stage, and certainly not with the humor Palmquist brings to “The Body’s Midnight.” Experiencing Boston Court and IAMA’s immersive production makes it all the more memorable.



“The Body’s Midnight” continues at Boston Court Pasadena, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena, through May 26, with shows Thursdays at 11:00 a.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and some pay-what-you-choose Mondays at 8:00 p.m. Tickets range from $24 to $59. For tickets and information, call the box office at (626) 683-6801 or visit Run time is 95 minutes without intermission.



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