Can a play show what it feels like to have a medical condition take over your mind? BE HERE NOW, Shattered Globe’s season opener, tackles this daunting question. I spoke with lead actress and company member Rebecca Jordan to learn how she approached this wholly unique character.
BTD: Your character Bari has Geschwind syndrome, symptoms of which include intense headaches and seizures that affect her perception of reality. How did you approach this unique character trait throughout your process?
I don’t think there has ever been a character like this written for a play. Through her seizures, she begins to see the world in a radically different way. At first, she’s a nihilist; everything is meaningless and life has no purpose, and the seizures wake her up, in a way.
We did a lot of research on what happens to the brain of people with Geschwind. People who have had these seizures have described them as a religious experience, so we used that as a jumping off point. You’re believing something you’ve never believed before. I did a little bit of Alexander technique with another company member and developed two switches so that I could tap into these two conflicting states of being and states of mind quickly on stage. I don’t think anybody will realize how difficult and dense this play is on first viewing. It is the most complicated character I’ve ever experience.
BTD: Shattered Globe’s Artistic Director Sandy Shinner is directing this play. What is unique about her rehearsal room?
Sandy’s a multitasker. I don’t know anybody like that woman. She’s tireless. She just brings all of herself to the table. We had to work quickly to get to the bones of this one, it’s been impressive. Sandy opened it up to allow the process to be very collaborative. We had two nights of rehearsal with the playwright [Deborah Zoe Laufer]. She illuminated some of the more complicated questions. There’s never been a play like this, so she was able to speak to what her intentions were when writing. With material like this, it could easily go in a direction that was not as realistic or believable.
BTD: This is the Chicago premiere of BE HERE NOW. Why is this an important play for our community right now?
This play looks directly at the harshness of the world we live in. There is consistent divisiveness all around us, and everyone struggles with how to be present and be happy in the moment. This play addresses how people go about finding joy or peace to get through this life. Bari has never had happiness in her life. She’s never loved anyone until this moment, until her encounter with this syndrome. This play is gut-wrenching and funny. Humor can come from deep pain, and BE HERE NOW explores all sides of that.
Be Here Now by Deborah Zoe Laufer, directed by Sandy Shinner. Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont Ave, (773) 975-8150, theaterwit.org, $15-$42. Through October 19th.