Review: ‘Sehnsucht’ Navigates the Inexact Science of Nostalgia

Review: ‘Sehnsucht’ Navigates the Inexact Science of Nostalgia

Basket and Ink, loincloth-clad women of the Stone Age, are sitting around the cave feeling wistful for a simpler time — before clothing, community and social taboos came along and ruined everything.

“You could kill anyone,” Ink remembers fondly.

“I really miss what it felt like to bash another person’s brains out,” Basket says, relish in her voice.

Ah, nostalgia for a romanticized past. We have been indulging in it just about forever. In “Sehnsucht,” a dementedly daffy piece of fun from the theater company TV, at Jack, that yearning colors every moment, from the Neolithic era to the 17th century and right up to our time.

Written by Michael Norton, with Sarah Blush and Brian Bock, and directed by Ms. Blush, “Sehnsucht” is a series of three sketch-comedy-style vignettes performed by an excellent cast with did-they-really-just-do-that abandon.

Signaling the show’s silliness in the opening scene are over-the-top knitwear appendages by the costume designer, Christopher Metzger. Basket (Georgia Lee King) and Ink (Margaret Odette) wear enormous breasts; their hunter friend, Meat (Mr. Bock), gets formidable genitalia that his loincloth is no good at hiding.

There will be peeing, by the way. And, when time jumps and Swiss schoolchildren appear in their Tyrolean hats, a fair bit of vomiting — all commendably hilarious, particularly the nausea-fueled belches of little Luca (Mr. Bock).

When nostalgia (that’s what the show’s title means in German) sweeps through the children’s classroom in the late 1600s, their homesickness becomes a physical illness. Their teacher (Bree Elrod), who has lived in the same house all her life, seems to be the only one immune.

This is the longest scene in the play, and it gets a little baggy. That’s because poor sight lines occasionally leave spectators (I can’t have been the only one) with no clear view of the performers, who are low to the ground, their backs often facing the audience.

But once the teacher fetches a physician to tend to her ailing class, all is forgiven. Played with deadpan science-mindedness by a wonderfully cast Sean Carvajal (“Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train”), Doctor Hofer raises the comedic bar.

“Leech him up good,” he says, eyeing one student, and the teacher complies.

The most surprising element of “Sehnsucht,” because it’s such a counterpoint to the humor, is the music, written by Deepali Gupta and used sparingly. Each time the actors begun to sing, it introduces a wholly new dimension, their layered voices lovely and suffused with longing.

In the final vignette, two women sit on a beach, experiencing the sort of golden moment that they want to be sure they don’t forget.

“We could tell three people about our day,” Cynthia (Ms. Elrod) says. “At least one of them will remember it.”

“Or I could cut my arm with a seashell,” Lila (Peregrine Teng Heard) says, her face bright, like this might be a genius idea. “So it scars.”

O.K., so maybe humans are not great at savoring the present without ruining it. And, as Doctor Hofer says, “Nostalgia is an inexact science.” But “Sehnsucht” navigates it beautifully.

Running for only a few more performances, it will give you a warm glow in the fleeting moment it’s here, and in the depth of its young talent make you feel rosily optimistic about the future. This is the kind of memory you want to have.

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