Carren's Pitch

Life by Design

This was my first brush with an absurdist play. Trust in the Red House to widen my horizons for me. Working with them is a pleasure. It was a hard task to squeeze them in my class schedule, but it was worth it. Their brand of art is farther out than what I would normally patronize--and that's what makes it great. Finally, here is a company that really gets me out of my comfort zone. In the case of the A Thought About Raya, getting out of my comfort zone was well worth the nighttime trip downtown.

Text and video by: Carren Jao

Go for a darkly fun ride with The Debate Society’s staging of A Thought About Raya, a Russian absurdist play inspired by the works of Daniil Kharms. After a successful run of Eaten Heart in September 2008, The Debate Society, a Brooklyn-based theater company, returns to Red House Arts Center in the hope of inspiring audience members to dream strange dreams after watching the show.

Set in the pseudo-1930s, A Thought About Raya consists of two actors taking on a multitude of roles one right after the other. The play’s construction borrows from Kharms’ own story structure. There are no transitions, just collisions—a whiplash of activity condensed in one self-contained scene after another.

Raya was the first collaboration between writer-actors Paul Thureen and Hannah Bos, and director Oliver Butler, explained Thureen and Bos during a preview session at 2nd Story on Westcott Street. What first began as a college thesis in Vassar College evolved into a widely acclaimed 32-piece play that has traveled from the Red Room in New York City to Oregon, Texas and Connecticut. It was because of this play and its warm reception in New York that gave birth to their company, The Debate Society, in 2004.

Though Raya finds itself staged every two years or so, Thureen and Bos never tire of discovering new aspects of their respective characters. “It’s not like a normal play when you’re done and you leave it,” said Thureen, “The characters are sort of always still alive in a strange way. Every time we do it, these characters are growing up a little bit.”

The Debate Society also changes things up each staging. Bos lets slip that the Syracuse run will premiere a new arrangement of the 32 pieces. Details of which, she coyly did not elaborate.
While Raya brings to life the spirit of Kharms’ work, Thureen and Bos assure us there is no need to bone up on the author’s body of work, the audience just has to come in with a willingness to embrace the weird.

“We don’t really mind if the audience doesn’t understand everything, and if they do understand everything, they probably don’t understand everything. I would just enjoy the ride and didn’t worry about trying to make sense,” Bos said. “If you sit in your chair, we’ll take care of the rest,” Thureen adds.

If you need an extra nudge getting into the mindset, Thureen and Bos are there to help by enacting a piece called, “Advice to Humorous Performers” during the play. If that doesn’t tip you in the right direction, then the Beak and Skiff vodka and pickle toast after the show should help you leave this wild ride slightly off-kilter, but smiling.

The details:
What: "A Thought About Raya," presented by The Debate Society.
Where: The Red House Arts Center, 201 S. West Street, Syracuse
When: Oct. 15, 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 18 at 2 p.m. with Artist Talk Back session
Tickets: Tickets are $25 Adult and $20 Students and Seniors. Tickets are available at
Information: or call (315) 425-0405


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