I can tell you how this play ended, and require no spoiler alert:
I could even tell you how they died (Vivienne was killed, Mitchell stabbed himself, and Doug shot himself ). Where they died? Sure! Viv in the men’s bedroom, Mitchell in the bathroom, and Doug in the other bedroom. Yet even telling you all of this, I am not ruining this play for you at all. Why?
Because this ending will never happen.
Habit, a play by conceptual artist and director David Levine, scenic artist Marsha Ginsberg, and dramatist Jason Grote takes a completely new look at reality and theater. Preoccupied with the paradoxes of realism, Levine takes three actors, gives them a script, and puts them in a house to produce “reality” for 8 hours a day, for 5 days.The story is basic: one girl, two brothers in love with her. They sometimes even speak in cliché, it’s such an overdone story. But that’s the magic; Levine is able to create something real out of the overplayed fake. We see this story in a new light, as we peer in through the windows.
Habit’s set by Ginsberg is a one-story, fully-functional house, with lighting and functioning plumbing, allowing the actors to shower, use the toilet, and cook while in the confines of the play loop. Audience members look in through the large windows and even a kitchen door, and can move with the characters or run around to follow the plot points.
As the day progresses, the house descends into the mess of past loops; the beer that one character opens in a previous loop stays there unless one of the characters eventually considers it logical in their motivation to clean it up. Decorations put up stay there, so by the end there are too many Halloween themed balloons to be considered sane. But it’s reality— there is no stage crew, no cleaning up between the scenes— and it’s what makes Habit so interesting.
Writer Grote had the challenge of writing a script in a play with no direction. Because of Levine’s vision, the actors can do whatever they want, as long as it makes sense. Grote therefore includes some suggestions in the dialogue the actors must say: “What are you doing?” asks Mitch. “Giving you a lap dance,” says Viv, enacting the gesture at that point. But soon, Grote allows for freedom by creating conversations that could take place anywhere; in one loop, Mitch talks about his break-up sitting at the table with Viv close to him, holding his arm in support. In the next, Mitch is saying the same thing while Viv walks around, brushing her teeth and feigning interest.
How the actors perform in each loop dictates their movements; that movement then dictates the climactic end, which impacts the next beginning, and so on. How they choose to say each line, where they choose to stand, how they play the character builds and builds as the actors come to the final decision of their play.
The dialogue ends with Viv begging for death, and Mitch saying he will comply to that demand. How was Mitch being played? Was he desperately in love with Viv, or merely interested in her. Does he care about her safety in this scenario? How is he feeling? The other brother, Doug, creates more motivational questions; how does he feel? What will he do? For instance, in my loop, Mitch kills Viv in the bedroom. He, overcome with grief, dies in the bathroom from suicide. Doug commits suicide in the other bedroom, overcome with stress from previous events. They die in separate rooms.
Because they die in separate rooms, the story begins again, but differently. When I saw the loop begin the first time, Viv and Doug entered the main living room from the bedroom, implying they had sex. Because they entered together, from the bedroom, and acted intimate, the actors all overplay the lines Grote included about the question of Doug and Viv’s intimacy. When the loop begins again, the entrance from different rooms causes the actors to not play up their relationship, and therefore they don’t react as strongly towards Mitch’s mention of their possible sex last night.
The entire character relationship changes from that one position, so when I tell you that everyone dies, they very well could, but the scene that I witnessed can never be duplicated, and can never happen again.
Habit runs until Sunday September 30th at the Essex Street Market and is free and open to the public.