Photo by Peter Corkhill
There but for the grace of God (go I) by Adam Welsh
Soho Theatre (Short walk from Tottenham Court Road)
Runs 1 hr 10 minutes, no interval
Veronica Stein, 10th August, 2018.
Adam Welsh proves that Googling oneself isn’t such a useless endeavor
Adam Welsh, like many, has engaged in the act of ‘ego-googling’- googling one’s own name to see what others find when they seek information on their whereabouts and goings on. Instead of finding heaps of articles on his theatrical success, the search entries are plastered with headlines describing a grisly kidnapping- of Adam Walsh, a Floridian 6-year-old in 1981. Adam Walsh takes the audience with him in There but for the grace of God (go I), exploring whether Google and/or the cosmos have summoned him to this tragic tale for reasons other than a similar surname.
The playing space at the Soho is organized with multifarious objects neatly displayed on the floor that suggest childhood- a yellow ball, a cherry red cap and a piano mat, to name a few- all in front of a scrim of string that provides a projection area that is never quite devoid of movement. It is immediately apparent upon arrival that Welsh has been meticulous about the mechanisms of storytelling he’ll use in the production, and he does not disappoint: he engages with many in a masterful work of multi-media that packs a serious punch in just a little over an hour.
What becomes quite clear as Welsh relays the story of Adam Walsh’s abduction is that comparing Welsh and Walsh is only the entry point for a much deeper narrative; footage of his (Welsh’s) parents discussing their childhoods and a time it seemed their son went missing gives way to the comparison of the parental units in these two families. What Welsh touches on is that aside from these relatively minor similarities (the surname, both going either missing or missing for a few hours) there are far greater chasms of difference. John and Reve Walsh are absolutely grieved by their son’s kidnapping, but Adam Welsh’s father remembers little regard for his son’s safety in the earliest decade of his life. What grieves Welsh the most, it seems, is a consistent dread that he has disappointed his father despite his father not being too invested. The exploration of why this has occurred feels like a diversion from the Welsh/Walsh investigation, but it is welcome and familiar- within us all there is likely to be a psychoanalyst determining what our parents did to screw us up, after all.
There are lags in the storytelling, and perhaps the ending of the Adam Walsh abduction is divulged earlier than necessary and wasted some tension potential. Overall, though, Welsh is boundlessly creative in his physicality, his use of media around the Walsh case, the unpretentious intimacy of his opening up the machinations of his own family, and his direction in its totality. Aside from what are arguably bells and whistles, he has crafted a very compelling play that seems to make two formidable statements: No matter how much care a parent may take, there will always be external threats and forces that may create and destroy; and that we can look to each other- even to strangers from 35 years ago- to find ourselves.
Writer/Performer: Adam Welsh
Associate Director: Timothy Trimingham Lee
Producer: Ellen Waghorn
Designer: Susannah Henry
Lighting Designer: Neill Brinkworth
Sound Designer: Kevin Gleeson