Back by Matt Webster
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
If you could go back in time with just ten precious seconds to fix the biggest mistake of your life, would you be able to do it? Would you still do it if it meant you would forever lose everything that happened since then in your current life?
These are the two burning questions facing Leah and Derek, the would-be couple at the heart of Back, Matt Webster’s fascinating science-fiction conundrum of a drama, presented as part of producer Ken Davenport’s RAVE Theatre Festival.
The sci-fi at element never overwhelms the emotional core of the story. Playwright Webster co-stars with Terra Mackintosh as a pair of lifelong friends and occasional lovers who do emotional dances around each other. The attraction is plain, but somehow even the warmest moments somehow turn into arguments. Despite how articulate both of them are, they are failing to deal with the central issue of their relationship.
Most of their arguments involve their failed dreams. Leah wanted to be a doctor, but a she was at the wheel in a car accident that killed a friend, and now her life seems to be a downward spiral. Derek dreams of success as an actor in New York, but apart from a fondly-remembered underwear commercial, his career is a bit of a bust. He longs for Leah to join him in the city; she longs for him to return home. Something always gets in the way of a stronger connection between them, and her solution is to use the “Back” option, leap back a decade and start over. To Derek, however, Backing is tantamount to suicide, since you disappear from this thread in the multiverse forever.
Derek finally realizes that he is not living in Leah’s original life, but in one of her failed Backs, and can think of only one way that he might undo all their mistakes, false starts and dead ends. But he knows the plunge will have its cost.
Beautifully written and acted, with genuine mystery and adult romance at its heart, Back plays like an especially intelligent episode of Black Mirror, though with a minimalist charm of its own.
The production features lighting design by Greg Solomon, which simply and effectively conveys the sense of going Back on the intriguing rectangular set designed by Tim McMath.
Directed by David Perlow, Back is playing a limited run through August 23 at the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center, 107 Suffolk St. in Manhattan.