Encore Michigan

‘Be Here Now’ at Williamston inspires a fresh look at exploring one’s options

Review July 28, 2023 Julie Linderleaf

Pop quiz:

You recently found out you have a brain tumor and if you don’t remove it, chances are very high that you will die. Do you remove it?

Easy answer, right? Remove it! 

But, what if everything seems better with the tumor? Emotions are richer and more layered. Colors are more vibrant. Food tastes amazing. The people in your life look better. Sex is off the charts. Everything feels, smells, tastes, looks, sounds better than it ever has. Would you still choose to remove it? 

Some would immediately say, well, yes, I would still remove it. But, in a world where nihilism is fast becoming a rising way of life in the world where nothing matters, what if life finally started to matter? 

“You can choose to be happy or you can choose to be sad,” is an extremely critical line in Be Here Now, a fresh, new comedy by Deborah Zoe Laufer performing at the Williamston Theatre through August 20th. 

This outstanding quartet of actors tackle this serious topic of life and death with superior comedic timing, working seamlessly together like they were a part of a bigger thing, not just a play. 

The story follows Bari played by Sarab Kamoo, a college professor on hiatus desperately trying to finish her dissertation on Nihilism, but running into an extreme case of writer’s block.  She moves back to her hometown and ironically picked up work in a fulfillment center, wrapping packages of spiritual items. With 17 days left before her deadline, stress hits her with extreme headaches, with blurring images and fainting.

Her co-workers–Patty played by Sandra Birch and Luanne played by recent MSU graduate Sophia Psiakis– are heavily concerned for Bari’s health and constantly suggest seeing the local doctor has to help; it helped them. Both feel much more happiness in their lives since the doctor prescribed mood enhancing drugs like Wellbutrin, Zoloft, Adderall, and according to Patty, Viagra for her husband! 

Patty is determined to help Bari find happiness somewhere whether it’s through spiritually achieving it with yoga, or getting it elsewhere.  So, she sets Bari up with Mike, played by John Lepard, a closet genius with a pet crow and a strange desire to collect random discarded and unwanted objects.  

Monica Essen’s set design is truly inspired. Williamston Theatre in June posted a request for junk–plastic water bottles, fishing gear, medical paraphernalia, tupperware, shoes, books, baby clothes, clocks etc. The set is built with donated items. These objects create the building materials for Mike, who makes houses out of found objects, or quite literally, trash. The floor of the stage is mod-podged with layers of magazine pictures and articles–imagine the time taken to decide on the images, and then install the desired placement. 

John Lepard emulates the quiet hermitage of a man that is suffering many internal demons and needs constant distractions to keep them at bay.

Director Rob Roznowski made use of every moment in this play with precision and detailed focus on the characters.  Scene changes moved the characters through their lives so that the audience could see too.  We get to delightfully watch LuAnne as she flirts with boys the only way she knows how in her small town: taking cellphone pictures of her breasts under shirt. We also get to feel with her as a text comes through and you can only tell through her body language that she has been dealt the shark teeth of a breakup.  

This profoundly moving play has many touching moments as well as laughs ,as the audience bonds with Bari on her journey to deciding how to achieve her own sense of happiness. Finding the upside, or even being conflicted about, a terrible, possibly fatal illness, is a profound journey any of us may be faced with.

Be Here Now not only deals with that grim fate, but also makes us think about what we are doing, and how we are feeling, even our healthy lives.