Playwright Tristan Grigsby Showcases First Play ‘Passing Through’

Tristan Grigsby is a young, tall, virile, dark-haired, handsome, muscular actor and playwright whose first New York play, “Passing Through,” is a deceptively spare, often humorous disquisition on loneliness. The play presents five characters, all of whom are in a particular state of loneliness, who go through brief dramatic encounters with each other and a visitor/messenger who has been sent by the gods to investigate their peculiar predicament. It has a gentle touch, a distilled style and a Beckettian effect. Theater for the New City will present the work April 10 to 28, directed by Guenevere Donohue.

The characters are a quirky lot: the Visitor, a lost and searching woman named Henrietta who is sort of a mean drunk, a toymaker named Otto, a depressed man who is based on the clown Grimaldi, a Coin Counter who is something of a CEO type, and a wise older woman. They complain, philosophize and reject each other under the watchful guidance of the Visitor. Being temperamentally disconnected from other people, they each seek a path to brighten their lives. Except for the older woman and the Coin Counter, they are played by young actors, all surprisingly crafted.

The set is three shipping pallets, covered in plastic, which are re-arranged to suggest different kinds of spaces including a bar room, and four chairs. The overall effect is of being transported to a very poetic and private universe, unique to the playwright, in which feelings of being disconnected, falling in love and then being heartbroken, force you to become a very old soul. The visitor/messenger attributes the plight of our aloneness to the indifference of our gods, or if you prefer, our higher powers. This is likely to leave you with the impression that loneliness is the human condition, but it’s not a gloomy message: it’s more like the feeling that life is a big goodbye while a big hello is coming later.

LR: Tristan Grigsby, Guenevere Donohue, Bob Laine, Bill Weeden and Mary Round. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Grigsby plays the visitor; the feeling is that his play is either a metaphorical version of his personal philosophy or a beguiling nacre of simple life lessons. The audience will try and figure it out, but it is inscrutable, like loneliness, time and death. The play was Grigsby’s MFA thesis project at Naropa University in Boulder, CO in 2012, directed by Joe Gill. Naropa is noteworthy for having hosted a number of Beat poets under the auspices of its Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. The university promotes non-traditional activities like meditation to supplement traditional learning approaches. “Passing Through” took its Boulder audiences by storm and Grigsby was encouraged by his mentors to bring it to New York.

The actors are Guenevere Donohue, Jaime Gonzalez, Bob Laine, Bill Weeden, Mary Round and Tristan Grigsby.

Tristan Grigsby (playwright) grew up in Princeton, Minnesota and earned an MFA from Naropa University in Contemporary Performance. He has studied acting in New York with George Bartenieff and wrote and performed the role of Vincent Van Gogh in “The Painters’ Project,” directed by Bartenieff, which played at TNC, Dixon Place and The Cherry Lane Theater. In classics, he has played Laertes in “Hamlet” directed by Bartenieff and Trinculo in “The Tempest” directed by Stephen Wangh. He has also worked with Bread and Puppet Theater and The Flea and acted in his own play, “The Story of a Snowflake,” directed by Fred Timm.

Guenevere Donohue takes over the director’s job from Joe Gill, who staged the play at Naropa. She is a Native New York theatre artist who was a long-time member of Joseph Chaikin’s Master Class for Actors and Directors. She earned her MFA in Contemporary Performance from Naropa University, where she directed numerous projects and was awarded an Artists Residency for performance and voice/movement pedagogy development for 2010-11. She has performed her original plays at Cherry Lane Studio, Dixon Place, Metropolitan Playhouse, The Makor Center and The Boulder Fringe Festival. She wrote and played the roles of Jackson Pollock in “The Painters’ Project” and Constance in “Krack,” both directed by George Bartenieff. She was awarded a John Golden Fellowship for Playwrighting (“The Poecock”). She is a member of The HB Ensemble, The Irish American Writers and Artists Association and Artists Without Walls.

Set design is by Joe Gill. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff.

Tristan Grigsby writes, “I am grateful to have my New York debut at Theater for the New City, which is a place for so many beginnings; where new playwrights have a chance to see their plays performed and where ticket prices are kept low to encourage a diverse audience. All of this would not be possible without the enduring dedication of Executive Artistic Director Crystal Field.”

“Passing Through” will be presented by Theater for the New City (155 First Ave. at Tenth Street) from April 10 to 28, 2013, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $15 and are available at the Box Office: 212-254-1109 or through

Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.