Written by Ellen McLaughlin; Directed by Ianthe Demos
Presented by One Year Lease Theater Company
Off Off Broadway, Play
Ran through 3.12.23
Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street
by Emily Cordes on 3.12.23
Christina Bennett Lind & Leon Ingulsrud in Kissing the Floor. Photo by Russ Rowland.
BOTTOM LINE: A Depression-era adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone, Kissing the Floor explores intergenerational trauma and the hidden costs of cycle-breaking.
One of antiquity’s most-adapted plays, Sophocles’ “Antigone” has captivated countless dramatists in its exploration of humanity’s most pressing conundrums, from the interpersonal ties that bind us together, to the systems we uphold, comply with, or disrupt. Presented by One Year Lease Theater Company, Ellen McLaughlin’s Kissing the Floor unpacks the family dynamics beneath the Antigone story, turning a lens on the sibling protagonists of the original to explore issues of personal agency, generational trauma, and the individual’s role in confronting and uprooting toxic cycles.
Set in Depression-era America, Kissing the Floor follows adult siblings Annie (Christina Bennett Lind), Izzy (Akyiaa Wilson), and twins Paul and Eddie (Leon Ingulsrud) as they piece together their lives after their family’s tragic downfall. Heirs to an aristocratic line steeped in betrayal, incest, madness, and displacement, the siblings have splintered in the wake of their mother’s suicide and father’s subsequent self-mutilation and exile, each confronting, continuing, or combatting the family’s legacy. While the cynical Eddie and conflicted Izzy have either broken with their past or observe its impact from afar, youngest sister Annie has taken the family’s burdens on herself, sharing in their ailing father’s penance and living a vagabond life as his sole caretaker.
Void of purpose after his death, Annie falls into deeper fixation with the past, returning to the family’s rotting ancestral home, seeking answers through elaborate seance rituals, and turning her attention to the imprisoned Paul, whose recent conviction for sexually harassing a minor is revealed to be part of a lifelong string of pedophilic abuse, with Annie herself as his earliest victim. Single-minded in her quest to understand and reform her brother, Annie finds herself at an impasse when her efforts to psychoanalyze Paul, marshal Izzy to her side, or bargain with the prison warden (Rinde Eckert) for his protection bring her no closer to resolution. When Paul’s release, and a unique but irreversible opportunity, offers a tenuous shot at redemption, Annie must determine just how much of her family’s legacy is hers to bear.
Kissing the Floor's four-person cast tackles its weighty subject matter with grace and nuance, each member encapsulating the complicated blend of love, hate, responsibility, and devotion inherent in navigating family strife. Scarred by her past but determined to rectify it, Christina Bennett Lind’s Annie embodies the full spectrum of survivorship, shaking with buried trauma in one moment and boldly confronting her abuser in the next. Perpetually torn between love for her family, hatred of their actions, commitment to breaking toxic cycles and guilt over her perceived role in them, her conflict is palpable and fascinating to watch.
Leon Ingulsrud’s Paul nicely blends menace and guilelessness, his innocent recounts of unconscionable acts breeding unexpected sympathy. We are left to wonder just how much of Paul’s behavior is truly in his control, and as Paul’s twin Eddie, Ingulsrud echoes this sentiment in his tale of the family’s twisted origins; products of such a line, he proclaims, cannot be anything but monsters themselves, nor expect anything but the suffering that is their birthright.
Shifting from de facto narrator to active confidante, Akyiaa Wilson’s Izzy makes compelling points about the self-serving facets of Annie’s martyrdom, and how her sister’s obsession with past suffering has blinded her to the love and true connections that still remain. Similarly distanced from the family’s conflict but unexpectedly looped into it, Eckert’s warden straddles compassion and steely morality, his guardianship over the prison and its neighboring potter’s field instilling a twofold empathy for, and blunt awareness of, that which society discards.
Though Kissing the Floor largely skirts Antigone’s political themes in favor of its relational content, its plot is no less rich nor its impact less potent for it. By focusing on the family unit at the story’s center, the piece raises countless larger questions about the limits of individual responsibility, mercy, or accountability for wrongdoing, the expectations placed on cycle breakers, and the ways in which we define ourselves in relation to our origins, wounds, or given circumstances. While it makes clear that we cannot choose our past, nor deny its impact on our present lives, we can choose the ways in which we engage with and overcome it.
(Kissing the Floor played at Theater Row, 410 West 42 Street, from February 25 through March 12, 2023. The running time was 1 hour 40 minutes, no intermission. Performances were Wednesdays at 2 and 7, Thursdays and Fridays at 7, Saturdays at 2 and 7, and Sundays at 2. Tickets were $37.50 (standard) and $52.50 (premium). For more information, visit oneyearlease.org.)
Kissing the Floor is written by Ellen McLaughlin. Directed by Ianthe Demos. Produced by One Year Lease Theater Company. Set Design by James Hunting. Lighting Design by Driscoll Otto. Sound Design by Brendan Aanes. Costume Design by Kenisha Kelly. Assistant Director is Nadja Leonhard-Hooper. Production Stage Manager is Vanessa Rebeil.
The Cast is Rinde Eckert, Leon Ingulsrud, Christina Bennett Lind, and Akyiaa Wilson.