Bari, the main character of “Be Here Now” — which Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre is currently presenting at the Oakes Center in Summit — doesn’t see things in black and white. It’s all pitch black.
“Everything is meaningless,” bluntly states the character, played by Laura Ekstrand (also Dreamcatcher Rep’s artistic director) in Deborah Zoe Laufer’s play — a romantic comedy in some ways, but also a play that asks some deep philosophical questions in an appealingly down-to-earth way.
Here are two more of Bari’s gems: “After you’re dead, you’re dead. No God, no afterlife, no purpose.” “I have nothing of value in my life.”
Laufer doesn’t pull any punches: Bari isn’t just a glum character, but teaches the philosophy she embraces, nihilism, in college. Her career has stalled, though. She has to take a break from it in order to finish her long-overdue dissertation. While she struggles with that, she is working in — ironically, for this supremely unfulfilled character — a fulfillment center in the fictional Upstate New York town of East Cooperville.
When we first meet her, she’s in a yoga class, showing who she is without even speaking. The instructor says “be here now,” but she can’t. She squirms and rolls her eyes; she raises her hand to let the instructor know she doesn’t want to be touched. It’s uncomfortable just to watch her.
She doesn’t fit in at work, either, where the cheerful, deeply religious Luanne (Daria M. Sullivan) and the no-nonsense, forcefully direct Patty (Nicole Callender) marvel at her gloominess and try to snap her out of it.
Relief comes in an unexpected way. Bari has been having bad headaches, and she starts passing out from them and waking up, basically, as another person, not just able to see the positive side of life but totally blissed out. It’s a miracle, each time, though it’s only a temporary fix: She soon reverts to her usual, pessimistic point of view.
She reluctantly agrees to a date with Mike (Clark Scott Carmichael), a rare eligible bachelor in this small, isolated town. He’s eccentric — he arrives for the date on bicycle, and has a pet crow — and sizes her up quickly. “You seem a little down,” he says, severely understating the truth.
Bari represents one kind of extreme. Mike is another. As Bari soon learns, despite his mild manner and modest appearance, he’s a world-class artistic genius. And Laufer doesn’t just give him a tragic back story, but lets us know he’s been through the absolute worst that life has to offer.
Laufer has her characters — all four of the play’s characters, really — represent extremes, but this works, because her story has a magical, fable-like quality to it.
Can Bari work through her problems, and will the wary Mike give her the support she needs to do it? Not everything is resolved by the end of the play, though Laufer gives us a hopeful (but not overly sentimental) final scene.
Director Harry Patrick Christian, a longtime Dreamcatcher Rep actor, helps make this quirky story relatable, and Zach Pizza’s set is a work of art in its own right — a whimsical collage of junk that evokes the clutter of both the fulfillment center and Mike’s home.
Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre will present “Be Here Now” at the Oakes Center in Summit through March 8; visit dreamcatcherrep.org.
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence, though, depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $10, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJ Arts Daily to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.