Adrienne Kennedy’s new play, ‘Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side,’ is utterly unique

The play, a knotty story of the lifelong literary competition between scrapping, scribbling sisters, is quintessential Kennedy: fragmentary but coherent, blisteringly visceral but enigmatically distinctive. When the lighting cross up on a Kennedy introduction, you strap in for a gambol alongside a novel corniche. Her canon is now and then interlocking; at any second, you’re susceptible to stumble upon puts or incidents from her different performs (or even from the works of alternative writers). Those touchstones are summoned fleetingly within the streams of poetic awareness which can be Kennedy’s pretty hallmark.

One of the most advantages of the net formatting of “Etta and Ella at the Higher West Facet” — directed with crisp authority via Timothy Douglas — is that you’ll watch it greater than as soon as. “Etta and Ella” surrenders its mysteries most effective grudgingly: You’ll listen it in a special, most likely much more rewarding approach a 2nd time via. I discovered an extra viewing useful in unraveling relationships referenced within the monologue accorded to Ella, who discursively parcels out main points of her and her sister’s psychic disintegration.

Seated at a desk on a naked degree, Clay results an amused professorial air as she recounts the occasions resulting in a violent stumble upon on Big apple’s Higher West Facet, in a gully close to the Hudson River. Don’t be expecting a police-procedural strategy to this account; Kennedy is way more keen on vagaries of disintegration than in a transparent delineation of a last act of insanity. Is the act itself a fable? Do Etta and Ella exist as separate beings? Is “Etta and Ella” in reality a ghost tale?

We be informed snippets about Etta and Ella, as soon as filled with authorial promise and now, in early heart age, consigned to has-been standing. A chum sees Etta in a bookshop, in her shabby day by day gown — a “wrinkled previous night robe” and footwear. A professor from Town School, a member of a small arts society known as the Vanishing Literary Membership, provides Etta a room in his brownstone on West 89th Boulevard. Etta and Ella get right into a jealous row over possession of positive tales from their previous, at a public tournament. Those fragments don’t coalesce in any standard biographical sense; we’re witness to the spilling out of cases, the best way one would possibly damage open a piggy financial institution, and watch the cash scatter throughout a desk.

A sad size is suffused right through “Etta and Ella” — of lack of standing, of bearings, of sanity. The play’s construction displays this perception of unraveling: That is how one in point of fact does traverse the blurry, variegated chambers of reminiscence. Non-public recollection can’t be plotted on a map. Seeking to assign it a logical direction could also be the actual act of insanity.

Clay is a superbly protean performer, as you recognize in the event you’ve observed her as a hard-bitten autoworker in Dominique Morisseau’s “Skeleton Team” at Studio Theatre or because the perceptive housekeeper in “The Little Foxes” on Broadway. Right here, she’s a sublime bestower of Kennedy’s riches.

Etta and Ella at the Higher West Facet, via Adrienne Kennedy. Directed via Timothy Douglas. $15 (or $60 for your entire four-play pageant.) Via Feb. 28. roundhousetheatre.org and mccarter.org.

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