Reviewed by LindaAnn Loschiavo for L’Idea
Violence repeats and resurfaces in different guises in Anisa George’s provocative but untidy drama filtered through a character created by the American author J.D. Salinger [1919— 2010].
Since it was published in 1951, 65 million copies of J.D. Salinger’s novel “The Catcher in the Rye” have been sold. Many readers retain a striking memory of the protagonist Holden Caulfield and go on, peacefully, with their lives.
However, two Salinger fans became high-profile killers. Mark David Chapman (born 1955) murdered John Lennon in December 1980, supposedly angered by the British icon’s boast that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Months later, in March 1981, John Hinckley, Jr. (born 1955) tried to impress actress Jodi Foster by assassinating President Ronald Reagan.
“Holden” begins in a log cabin or woodshed that is the writing retreat of Salinger [BILL GEORGE, the playwright’s father], occasionally visited by his young daughter Margaret “Peggy” Salinger [GEORGE TRUMAN, making her stage debut], who seems to be 10 years old. This is an immediate jolt because Chapman, Hinckley, and Peggy were all born the same year: 1955. However, in Anisa George’s time-bending shadow-land, Peggy remains a child while Chapman and Hinckley are grownups, already infamous.
What brings these individuals together? It’s not clear at first. But our eyes are drawn to a tantalizing array of Salinger’s newly typed pages, clipped to a clothes line — — evidence of a new manuscript that both Chapman [JAIME MASEDA] and Hinckley [SCOTT R. SHEPPARD] feel they can persuade him to finish by willing it.
The first half of the play is filled with hijinks and slapstick as three men hover behind Salinger as he types and Chapman wears a soldier’s helmet. The third is most mysterious. Zev [MATTEO SCAMMELL] neither seems devoted to Salinger nor certain about his role in the comical ritual they’ve devised.
Though they are aware of Salinger, he’s unaware of them. Are they muses? In between consuming cups of coffee, the three give clues that they are not quite human, for instance, there’s no desire to urinate. Nevertheless, there are other urgencies, for example, to see another manuscript completed and submitted for publication. Salinger has more power than they do; he can leave the cabin but they can’t, and he can lock the pages away in a safe, foiling their cheerleading.
Their antics are interrupted by battlefield sounds, possibly the author’s wartime memories. Chapman explains to Zev that Jerry Salinger took part in D-Day maneuvers. The gunfire shifts the play into a sinister register. Even as Salinger continues to type, sleep, pour coffee, or putter around, Zev’s disturbing preoccupations come to light as he discusses the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik who massacred 77 people in 2011.
Is this the new way to be “the catcher in the rye” — — to stop people from being phony with bullets? Chapman states John Lennon started writing phony lyrics such as “imagine no possessions” when he himself owned real estate and yachts. And then (spoiler alert) the play spirals down deeper into violence as Chapman and Hinckley gang up on Zev.
The set is deliberately cluttered, claustrophobic. The man cave designed by Nick Benacerraf is not unlike a frat house, impervious to the siren call of the vacuum cleaner.
The costumes designed by Rebecca Kanach are unselfconsciously nerdy. Salinger dons pale blue long-johns. Little Peggy’s in sleepwear. Chapman, Hinckley, and Zev wear garments that look like they’ve seen better days.
“Holden” was developed, in part, in the 2015 Ice Factory Festival. “When I hear there’s been yet another mass shooting in America,” said Anisa George, “I feel like ‘the boy in the people shooting hat’ who Salinger created, has been irrevocably corrupted and has manifested himself in the world in a way Salinger could never imagine. I think I needed to make sense out of this new Holden, to discover how he was born, and to find a place for him amidst the pantheon of Holdens already enacted in the play.”
“Holden” had a limited run at New Ohio Theatre in Greenwich Village from January 6 through January 14, 2017