Asha, 23, has recently hatched out of college. It’s her first few months in the “Real World” as she calls her new life. She still accidentally describes herself as an “art major,” but while she wants so desperately to be a Real Artist, she can’t say the words without feeling like a fraud.
Asha’s loneliness is palpable. She wanders her new neighborhood in Brooklyn taking photographs which she sends to her friend Sam back home. It’s on one of her photographical explorations that Asha discovers that there’s something a little bit – different – about her new neighborhood, something magical.
Exploring one day, Asha meets Graham, a charming and once-successful sculptor in his 40s. Graham is rounding the corner of a five-year slump and is consumed with doubt that his biggest achievements are behind him. Graham hires Asha to be his assistant, and it’s not long before the two become inseparable. They each have something that the other lacks, and their collaboration is electric. And when he kisses her on a rooftop in Brooklyn, it feels to Asha as if her adult life is finally taking shape.
Each act is bookended by a projected montage in an eerie underwater space that’s dark and scaled like the interior of a fish. Projected on multiple layers of fabric, these montages foreshadow the moments that lead Asha to her final, magical vision at the end of the story.
Asha throws herself into the collaboration, conceiving the idea for Graham’s new series of unsettling silicone sculptures. Does it matter that she’s molding her own creative voice to better serve Graham’s art? And is it normal for her to give up her own artwork to fully serve this collaboration? Asha shrugs it off. They are making amazing work together, and Graham didn’t seem too impressed with her own artwork anyway. Maybe it wasn’t good enough to begin with, Asha thinks. She doesn’t see it, but her own artistic identity is becoming swallowed up by Graham’s before hers is even fully formed – like a fish swimming in the belly of one much larger.
Ever curious, Asha investigates the eccentricities of her neighborhood with her camera. She discovers a man who can become invisible at will so that he can live “rent free!” in an abandoned and overgrown lot. She also happens upon a mysterious woman who dances a bewitching solo in a garden – a garden with eerie, wooden cages hanging from a tree.
Asha chases after these mysteries and makes photo collages of them to send to Sam. But these photos obscure more about Asha’s new life than they reveal, and a rift begins to grow in Sam and Asha’s friendship.
The “Real World” is a confusing place where the rules don’t always make sense, and so Asha isn’t prepared to walk into Graham’s room one morning to discover a woman in his bed: Graham’s once-estranged wife, Margaret, 40s. Margaret was once a high-powered investment manager but has mysteriously quit and now struggles to re-invent herself as she hides a secret guilt.
Heartbroken, Asha packs up her things and resolves to leave, but Graham begs her to return. And so, Asha demands recognition. If she’s to stay on the project, Graham must publicly proclaim her contribution to the series.
All alone in the city, Asha seeks advice from her eccentric new neighbors, but they answer her in riddles. Only Margaret seems to have any real advice to impart. Margaret never made excuses for herself, climbing her way to the top. She’s a winner. She always wins. But now, she doesn’t know what game she’s playing. She and Asha are not friends. But still, there is something that connects them, something complicated.
Asha returns to their project and Graham’s promise of recognition. And though she resists the temptation at first, she succumbs to her desires for Graham, and their relationship becomes clandestine.
Meanwhile, the mysteries of Asha’s new neighborhood continue to beguile her. What transforms the hunched old woman next door into a passionate young dancer? And why do the local alley cats seem to spy on everyone in town?
As Asha becomes tangled in Graham and Margaret’s lives, in their struggling marriage, in Margaret’s quest for a new identity, and in the demands of the work, she is drawn farther and farther away from her old life. She feels herself changing, learning from Graham, but not the lessons she expected to learn.
Is Graham helping Asha become the “Real Artist” she so desperately desires to be?
It’s not until she takes the magic into her own hands, does she see a place for herself within the puzzling paths of the Real World.
An intricate, character-driven drama seasoned with magic, stop-motion, experimental sequences, and a dash of whimsy.