At Pioneer Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of Touch(ed), I couldn’t help but notice the degree to which my fellow theater-goers were invested. Typically, my enjoyment of a show is largely independent of the experience of those around me; I’m stubborn like that. This time, though, I was along for the ride with the entire house; communal concentration part of the air like a constituent gas.
And rightly so. Touch(ed) is the rare production that feels almost entirely real. It deals with familiar theatrical themes of family, (in)sanity and the nature of art in its tale of Kay (Jennifer Joan Thompson) caring for her schizophrenic sister Emma (Kelly Hutchinson), but handles them in genuinely fresh and interesting ways.
Sometimes at stage productions, I feel like I’m watching puppets who are merely mouthing aspects of the playwright’s psyche or embodying pet peeves, archetypes and prejudices. In Touch(ed), however, the characters, are fleshedout humans who are surprising and self-contradictory in believable ways. Even when the story ends up somewhere predictable, playwright Bess Wohl brings us there by a circuitous route. The characters don’t do and say things necessary to reach the preordained outcome; they come to logical, if familiar, conclusions based on their beliefs, traits and experiences.
The glaring exception to this meticulous reality is the character of the doctor (Dennis Parlato). Relegated to mercifully few minutes on stage and acting merely as a sounding board for Kay, his presence and portrayal add little to nothing to an otherwise excellent production.
You should go see it—and share the audience’s experience—anyway.