November 5, 2010 – December 12, 2010
Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 12, 2010
Detailed and fine set design, by John McDermott, is packed into a small playing space on the second floor theatre tucked inside 224 Waverly Place in the West Village. The conventional set evokes kitchen sink dramas such as Come Back Little Sheba (and I love a great kitchen sink drama) — house with shingled siding, front porch door, living room, several doors off, dining table, dish cupboard. The feeling is of rural, cottage-y/bungalow-y family drama. What we have at this point in Heidi Schreck‘s evolving new play is family drama with metaphysical allusions that, like the set design, is a bit too packed with nuances. A first act with terrific possibilities seems to lose its way in the second.
An off-stage ill mother in the first act and an onstage adolescent daughter Lana (Nadia Alexander) in the second act bookend the causes and outcomes of the lives of two couples at the core of this story. Maxine (Christina Kirk) and Charles (Gibson Frazier), some years married, are high school teachers in their home town in rural New Jersey we guess (much reference is made to the Delaware River and seeing Pennsylvania on the other side) and have moved into Maxine’s mother’s home to care for her. We don’t meet mother nor learn much about her, other than the fact that she had Maxine when she was young and that she may have raised her alone. Gabe (Adam Rothenberg) and Nina (Dagmara Dominczyk) show up one late night with secrets of many varieties including why they have come to America. She and Gabe met in Eastern Europe, she was a journalist (but now wants to have a simpler life as a receptionist or something “with a boss”), American Gabe is in some kind of import/export business, and we don’t completely believe the details he provides. They might be hiding out with Maxine and Charles, or they might be seeking something else. We learn as the evening wears on that there are layers of relationships among these young adults — including the facts that Charles and Gabe grew up together and Gabe and Maxine had a fling. Typical messy small town story telling stuff. Nina extracts a promise from Maxine and Charles to care for her adolescent daughter Lana if something should happen to her. And a different level of questions arise.
There are ghosts and knocking and doused lights and perhaps spirit possession and allusion to Theosophy. (Blithe Spirit‘s humor helps carry its creaky framework through its spirit world send up. There is no such humor attempted here.) Everyone has secrets that are, eventually, exposed. There is a toast to “no more secrets”. (Theosophy is in fact founded on the idea that “there is no religion higher than truth”.) All these details provide pregnant possibilities for a play. This production doesn’t quite achieve them. Background and context for each of the characters can confuse. Mysteries in the human everyday realm are fine — but throw in what can feel like opportunistic spirit world stuff, and the audience can disengage.
The direction by Kip Fagan is static for extended periods of time. For example, the first act on the crowded set over endless glasses of vodka contains many loud toasts and plot exposition and very little movement — four people motionless around a table. Loud exclamations don’t awake ill nameless mother off stage throughout the first act. Yes, questions arise in the logic of this play’s world.
Some performances are quite riveting — especially Dominczyk’s Nina and young Alexander’s Lana. The other performances can feel surface and disjointed. And on that crowded set with this crowded script, I certainly am not laying blame at the feet of any of these accomplished performers. I simply gasped for air and grasped for the thread of the story about half way through the evening.
© Martha Wade Steketee (November 15, 2010)
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