Contributor Lindsay B. Davis reviews The Library, a theatrical collaboration between Hollywood heavyweights Scott Z. Burns and Steven Soderbergh.
In The Public Theater’s The Library, two film veterans—writer Scott Z. Burns (Side Effects, The Informant, Contagion, co-writer of Bourne Ultimatum) and Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brokovich, sex, lies, and videotape)—tackle the topic of gun violence in American schools by awakening the Off Broadway theater community to a few ideas they’ve probably debated over Sunday brunch or a recent cocktail party: the media is sensationalistic, law enforcement just wants to close a case, Bible thumpers are hypocritical, surgeons are arrogant, teenagers struggle with emotions and guns are bad.
The narrative centers on Caitlin Gabriel (Chloë Grace Moretz in her stage debut), who survives being shot in the Golden Valley High School’s library, only to become the subject of an investigation for possibly aiding the gunman during the attack. The plot maneuvers its way through a “Did she do it?” canal but never feels terribly suspenseful.
Meanwhile, Caitlin’s parents, Elizabeth Gabriel (Jennifer Westfeldt) and Nolan Gabriel (Michael O’Keefe), whose marriage is under attack thanks to the former’s alcoholism and latter’s extramarital affairs, struggle to support Caitlin through the recovery from her gunshot wounds against the backdrop of their unspecified town’s (“Somewhere in the United States of America”) increasingly accusatory, witch hunt-esque treatment of their little girl. Amongst the most vocal is a fellow student’s very Christian mother, Dawn Sheridan (Lili Taylor), whose daughter died in the attack. There is also Ryan Mayes (Daryl Sabara), Caitlin’s fellow student who was present at the time of the shooting and becomes a key witness who struggles with trauma from the event.
Unfortunately, Soderbergh’s direction misfires. The best theater is not slick or sanitized. It’s hot and intimate, but The Library doesn’t pack heat. Stark lighting scheme hide the actors’ faces to the detriment of being able to connect. The set—a collection of silver tables and chairs used to establish the inside of a library, operating room, or the family home on which the characters occasionally stand to make direct addresses to the audience or each other—is too experimental for this story, particularly in combination with the harsh lighting design.
While Moretz (Kick Ass 2, Carrie, Dark Shadows, Hugo) does fine work as an adolescent defending her truth without necessarily speaking it, we are cheated from being able to experience the beauty of her work. Of her supporting players Taylor (Three Sisters, The Dead Eye Boy, Aunt Dan and Lemon), Westfeldt (Wonderful Town, 24 Hour Plays) and O’Keefe (Reckless, Side Man, The Fifth of July), while all experienced film and stage actors, only Taylor really resonates. This has a lot to do with a production that seems more intent to disturb by way visual effects and all too familiar sounding characters that border on the stereotypical.
I hate to say it, but this Soderbergh-Burns brainchild would make a far better movie.
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
Through April 27
Lindsay B. Davis is an arts/culture journalist and theater artist living in New York City.
Contributor Melissa Firlit gets a belly full of laughs at Classic Stage Company’s production of The Heir Apparent.
The Heir Apparent, originally written by Jean-Francois Regnard in the early 18th century and adapted by the smart and savvy David Ives, is a refreshing and boisterously funny night at the theater. Ives takes a tale that is familiar and gives it new life—one that is well appreciated by the audience, whose faces contort with laughter throughout Classic Stage Company’s production. Ives’ ability to play with language astounds with verse that has the audience laughing at the play on stage as well as themselves.
This is a classic story places Geronte—a greedy, rich old uncle who is at death’s door has no heir to his fortune—at the plot’s center. Ailed with pains and coughs, he makes an arrangement to marry the young beauty Isabelle, the daughter of the strong willed and controlling Madame Arante. Isabelle is supposed to be the fiancé of Geronte’s nephew, Eraste. Madame Arante agrees to allow Eraste to win Isabelle’s hand in marriage if he can get his uncle to sign over his fortune. With the help of his two sidekicks Crispin and Lizette, Eraste tries every plot imaginable to get his uncle to name him the sole heir. Through smart theatricality, mistaken identity and classic comedic bouts, the play takes us on a hilarious journey that ends in happily ever after.
Direcotr John Rando extracts amazing work out of this terrific ensemble. The cast is sharp in their storytelling and clearly having a great time taking the audience on this romp. Crispin, played by Carson Elrod, has amazing physicality, vocal variety and comedic timing. Suzanne Bertish as Madame Argante mesmerizes us with her greed and wonderful way with words. Lizette, played by Claire Karpen, is funny, warm and keeps everyone in line with great quips and sassy authority. Amelia Pedlow plays the young ingénue Isabelle with a strong backbone that is pushed through this story because of her eager love for Eraste. Dave Quay as Eraste is smart, loving and will stop at nothing to get the fortune and the girl. The greedy miser Geronte, played by Paxton Whitehead with great ease in all of his discomforts and selfishness. Lastly, Scruples, deliciously played by David Pittu, is brilliant. Scruples is like adding ice cream to cake—it only makes it better.
The design team is one of great theatrical collaboration: David C. Woolard’s costumes are loud, appropriate and completely serve the need of each character; John Lee Beatty’s set is a well-thought understatement to let the play soar; the lighting is clean and practical by Japhy Weideman; and Nevin Steinberg has designed a collection of bizarre, quirky sounds that somehow feel justified within this world. His pre-show and post-show music are pure joy to hear and capture the essence of the evening.
The Heir Apparent is for anyone who is in need of a fun-filled time at the theater. It is a delightful feast for those who are hungry for laughs.
The Heir Apparent
Classic Stage Company
136 East 13th Street
Through May 4
Melissa Firlit is a freelance theatre director and teaching artist in the New York City area. She received her MFA from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts.
Every third Wednesday of the month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out contributor Tom Mizer’s nosey little questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. For April, we’re getting shady with our man of the month…
Name: Alec Varcas
Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler discovers the mystical world of Amaluna.
By now, most of us are familiar with the Cirque du Soleil brand, one which combines circus acts with death-defying feats of acrobatics, aerial maneuvers, contortion and just about anything else you can dress up with body paint, sequins and feathers. Amaluna, the company’s latest concept to hit the road, incorporates the added value of Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus (Pippin, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess). This Cirque is one that celebrates a decidedly feminine energy and is centered on a mysterious island governed by Goddesses and guided by the cycles of their moon.
According to program notes, their queen, Prospera, directs her daughter’s coming-of-age ceremony in a rite that honors femininity, renewal, rebirth and balance, which marks the passing of these insights and values from one generation to the next.
In the wake of a storm caused by Prospera, a group of young men lands on the island, triggering an epic, emotional story of love between Prospera’s daughter and a brave young suitor. But theirs is a love that will be put to the test. The couple must face numerous demanding trials and overcome daunting setbacks before they can achieve mutual trust, faith and harmony.
At the end of the journey, I can’t say that I absorbed much of that, save the “numerous demanding trials” that take the form acts including uneven bars, teeter boards, aerial straps and more. But worth the ticket price alone is an act that transcends Cirque’s flashy costumes and palpitating maneuvers. Executed by Lili Chao, it is simply called “Balance Goddess” and had the audience enraptured in its rhythmic beauty.
As the lights come up, Chao is centered in the middle of what appears to be a life-size game of pick-up sticks, except that the pieces slightly resemble a whale skeleton. One at a time, she slowly stacks the sticks crosswise upon each other, balancing the growing structure as she methodically rotates 360 degrees. Chao, outfitted with a body mic, deeply breathes throughout the ritual, adding dimension and strength. By the end of the piece, she is miraculously balancing an entire skeletal structure, and in one swift movement, its entirety gently cascades upon itself into a heap.
What comes before and after is Cirque-licious, packed with an international cast of gorgeous bodies, equally as mystical costumes, and an all-female band that echoes Heart, Pat Benatar and smidge of Celtic Woman. For those who have ventured to Las Vegas to see Cirque’s resident shows that take advantage of hydraulic lifts, aquatic stages and other 21st century gadgetry, consider returning to the Big Top, where Amaluna will carry you away to parts unknown.
Through May 18
Want to see more? Take the leap!
The Olivier Awards (London’s equivalent of the Tonys) were handed out this weekend to the latest crop of musicals and plays to arrive on the West End. While some say that the results were predictable, we here in the States were particularly excited to see hometown favorite Gavin Creel snag Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in Book of Mormon. Nominated twice for a Tony Award (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Hair), we had the opportunity to interview Creel back in 2012 and have been following his trajectory to stardom ever since. Another exciting win was the smashing revival of Merrily We Roll Along.
Here’s a full list of this year’s winners:
MasterCard Best New Musical
Book of Mormon
Best Actress in a Musical
Zrinka Cvitešić, Once
Best Actor in a Musical
Gavin Creel, Book of Mormon
Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical
Stephen Ashfield, Book of Mormon
Autograph Sound Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music
Once, Martin Lowe for composition & arrangements, Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová for music & lyrics
Lyndsey Turner, Chimerica
Best Theatre Choreographer
Casey Nicholaw, Book of Mormon
Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre
Handbagged, Tricycle Theatre
Outstanding Achievement in Opera
English Touring Opera for its brave and challenging touring productions at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House
Best New Opera Production
Les Vêpres Siciliennes, Royal Opera House
Best Musical Revival
Merrily We Roll Along
Best New Comedy
Jeeves & Wooster In Perfect Nonsense
BBC Radio 2 Audience Award
American Airlines Best New Play
Lesley Manville, Ghosts
Rory Kinnear, Othello
Outstanding Achievement in Dance
Michael Hulls for his body of lighting work including Ballet Boyz – The Talent at Sadler’s Wells
Best New Dance Production
Eastman – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui & Sadler’s Wells for Puz/zle at Sadler’s Wells
XL Video Award for Best Set Design
Es Devlin, Chimerica
Best Costume Design
Mark Thompson, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Best Entertainment & Family
The Wind in the Willows
Best Sound Design
Carolyn Downing, Chimerica
Gareth Owen, Merrily We Roll Along
White Light Award for Best Lighting Design
Tim Lutkin & Finn Ross, Chimerica
Paul Pyant and Jon Driscoll, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Sharon D. Clarke, The Amen Corner
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Jack Lowden, Ghosts
Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera is easily one of the 20th Century’s most influential and popular works of musical theater — a debauched tale of criminal double-crossing unleashed when a crime kingpin (Mack the Knife) runs off with the daughter of crooked merchant. Its popularity is particularly shocking when you consider that it features a murderer’s row of dissolute characters, overtly political attacks and songs that intrude on the action with bruising willfulness. Then again, when you know you can get home safely afterward, who doesn’t like to spend some quality time hanging out with the bad boys?
The good news about the stylish and stripped down (literally and figuratively) production currently at the Atlantic Theater and directed by famed director-choreographer Martha Clarke (Pilobolus Dance) is that you’re unlikely to find another version enacted with such clarity. Every cynical word and unexpected note is presented with admirable musicality and precision, so much so that I felt I was hearing many things for the first time. The diction slices and dices the equally razor-sharp wit of Marc Blitzstein’s 1954 English adaptation. The cast and band shape the songs with obvious care, the crackling vamps and lyrical phrasing bursting with energy (and planting the seedy seeds for many a Kander and Ebb to come.) I found my ears tickled time and again.
Unfortunately, it is this same precision that seems to get in the way of the more earthy pleasures of the show. For a piece that thumbs its nose at theatrical conventions and is populated by thugs, whores and corrupt cops, there isn’t much danger here. The cast is uniformly solid but surprisingly scrubbed and safe. I expected to feel a bit under attack, like these actors might leap into the audience and steal my wallet, but instead the only thing I worried about was whether Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham was forgetting his lines or just playing with the audience. The stage pictures are elegant, a German expressionist painting come to life and draped with half-naked bodies and bold silent movie shadows, but they don’t always do much to up the dramatic stakes or get at the piece’s pugnacious humor (a delightfully distracting appearance by a bulldog notwithstanding).
The women of the cast fair best. Sally Murphy (August: Osage County) makes a compelling Jenny, singing the justifiably famous “Pirate Jenny” with raw emotional transparency and darting around the edges of the production with a real sense of a life of abuse. Recent Tony-nominee Laura Osnes (Cinderella) once again proves the depth of her musical chops, handling Polly’s tricky vocal lines with seductive ease. NYC stage veteran Mary Beth Peil and Lilli Cooper (Spring Awakening) provide sparks of salacious humor as Mrs. Peacham and Lucy Brown.
In the end, I’m glad I had the chance to experience this classic book and score in a production featuring such talented and studious interpreters; I came out of the show with a newfound appreciation for the work. But if you’re looking for a Threepenny that draws blood—and then makes you ask for more—this production falls short.
The Threepenny Opera
Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20th Street)
Through May 4
By Brace Cove
Each spring NYU Skirball curates “powerful performances from around the globe” as part of its Visions + Voices Global Peformance Series, which creates a unique opportunity to closely examine and celebrate a singular world culture. This season, Vision + Voices turned to China and The Broadway Blog sent writer Brace Cove to check out a production of Richard III.
“A fascinating bore. A dull spectacular.”
The Shakespearean convention of the oxymoron fits this production like a glove. There was so much about the National Theater of China’s production of Richard III to grab the eye—so much to pique interest. Sadly, once piqued, there’ wasn’t much to the production to hold that attention.
Richard III is the tale of the charming, charismatic, handicapped and homicidal Richard Duke of Gloucester’s, rise to power. Set at the penultimate peace of the War of the Roses, the story follows Richard’s lethal ambitious quest to grab the crown of England for himself as the blood of family and friends spills in his wake.
Richard tells us at the plays opening he laments the new peace. Peace is a time for lovers. Since he is not “shaped for sportive tricks” as capering “nimbly in a lady’s chamber” to “lascivious” tunes, he will set his sites on gaining England’s crown for himself.
The Chinese National Theater’s production borrows from the story of another Shakespearean homicidal would-be king. Richard meets three witches who prophesy his rise to power. He takes his cue from them. They return again to prophesy his downfall as well.
The production boasts lots of visual stimulation and theatricality. There are gilded robes, glittering crowns, pouring blood, acrobats, and an amazing hat that reminded me of antelope horns, made of the longest feathers I have ever seen. An aesthetic of stylized movement creates beautiful pictures and tableau. I found myself wanting to learn more about and see some purely traditional Chinese theater rather than this hybrid.
Zhang Dognyu as the title character is an energetic, engaging and charismatic Richard, with incredible stage presence, though his performance was only occasionally handicapped, which I found a bit distracting—sometimes he was hunchbacked with a withered arm, other times not.
Conceptually and technically, the production suffers. The characters are all portrayed as archetypes. What’s wrong with that? Well, Shakespeare’s characters often speak for a long time. We watch them deliberate, rationalize and finally come to a conclusion. Through the process of deliberation, the subtlety and nuance of humanity is revealed. The light shines on different aspects of each character as they struggle, as they grapple with challenges that mark the road to success or failure in their individual paths.
Since each character was portrayed is such broad strokes, that subtlety and nuance of deliberation didn’t shine through. For the most part everyone came across as one note, one-dimensional. The words became subservient to the style. The production also suffered numerous technical problems, particularly the supertitles that were decidedly unsuper. They were often syntactically and grammatically challenging and rarely were in synch with scene that was taking place on stage. At one point, supertitles even spun across the screen in rapid succession like a Rolodex.
At times provocative, entertaining, theatrical, engaging and certainly culturally significant, this Richard III was ultimately however, not greater than the sum of its parts.
Vision + Voices continues through May 12 with the following performances:
Film: The Piano in a Factory
When Chen’s estranged wife (QIN HAI-LU) reappears asking for a divorce and custody of their daughter, the young musician decides she will live with whoever can provide her a piano. When efforts to borrow money and even steal a piano fail, Chen (WANG QIAN-YUAN) concocts a preposterous plan – to make a piano from scratch! He persuades a bunch of reluctant but loyal misfit friends to help him forge the instrument in a derelict factory from a heap of scrap steel.
Film/Music: Tan Dun’s The Map
The NYU Symphony Orchestra will perform Tan Dun’s masterpiece, The Map in a one-night only concert performance with special guests – Grammy-nominated conductor Andrew Cyr and leading classical cellist Wendy Sutter. The field video recordings used in The Map capture passionate antiphonal singing, intriguing tongue singing, emphatic percussive dance and other images of ethnic musical life. The interaction of audio-video and live music connected generations and cultures across years and over continents. The evening will also feature Tan Dun’s Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa featuring pipa virtuoso Zhou Yi.
Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler revisits a modern classic, Les Misérables.
“At the end of the day you’re another day older.”
So goes the lyric in one of musical theater’s most epic adventures, Les Misérables, which returns to Broadway this spring in a triumphant new staging co-directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell with additional musical staging by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt. If that seems like a lot of hands on deck, well… it is, but apparently it takes an army to bring to life Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel that follows the journey of Jean Valjean as he matures from enraged convict to soft-hearted senior—all set against the backdrop of the French Revolution.
Les Miz fanatics will be thrilled with the new production, which retains the sweeping melodies of the original but replaces the synthetic 1980s orchestrations with a more natural sound, though the hard-working 20-piece orchestra could use more strings to fully realize its intent. Long gone is the set’s famous turntable and encroaching barricade, instead replaced by a conventional set with pieces flying and rolling in as needed. Set and image designer Matt Kinley incorporates creative projections that add depth and dimension, though occasionally feel more Xbox than 19th century.
But what catapults this latest incarnation to a new level are the emotionally raw, visceral performances of its leading men: Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean and Will Swenson as Javert. Their cat and mouse chase throughout the years is wrought with tension and urgency. Karimloo, an Iranian-born Canadian actor, sports a soaring tenor voice (not to mention a full sleeve tattoo) that captures the nuances, vulnerability and rage of Valjean’s journey. Unlike the original production, the staging allows Karimloo freedom to move and breathe unique life into the character. We see Valjean’s uncontrollable temper slowly melt as he undertakes the responsibility of caring for young Cosette, the orphaned daughter of Eponine, a woman who worked in Valjean’s factory who succumbed to the hardships of the era. Karimloo’s dynamic performance—sometimes frenetic and wiry and at other times distilled into quiet melancholy, anchors the story while simultaneously propelling it forward.
As his longtime nemesis Javert, Will Swenson is a worthy counterpart. Hunting Valjean throughout the years, their encounters grow with increasing tension as Javert descends into despair while Valjean’s sense of peace and purpose only increases. Swenson’s bari-tenor voice sounds stifled at times by the role’s limited vocal range, but like Karimloo, delivers an emotionally charged performance.
Surprisingly, the women of this Les Miz are less successful. Caissie Levy as Fantine, while possessing a powerful voice that could storm a barricade, lacks the emotional vulnerability needed to portray a woman forced to sacrifice her morals and eventually her life to save her child. Nikki M. James (Tony Award-winner for Book of Mormon) also hits her marks but lacks any sort of chemistry with love interest Marius (charmingly portrayed by Andy Mientus). As adult Cosette, Samantha Hill fares far better, capturing the style of the era as well as possessing a clear, soprano voice.
The spirited ensemble—an ever-changing cast of street urchins, revolutionaries and the like—fill the Imperial Theatre with some of the best voices on Broadway right now, though they are quite young and leave one to wonder what the age expectancy was circa 1832.
At its core, Les Misérables, is a story of compassion and forgiveness. As Valjean sings on his deathbed, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” It is a testament that people—if willing—can change. Whether you’re a Les Miz fanatic or one of the handful that has yet to see this epic tale, this production beautifully retells what has become a classic of the modern musical theater.
249 West 45th Street
From The Broadway Blog’s editor Matthew Wexler—April showers bring a super storm of Broadway heavyweights hitting the boards this month. From a hilarious musical romp to the latest play from heart-tugger Harvey Fierstein, the season is in full swing as Tony-eligible productions must open before the April 24 cut-off date. Head below 14th Street for an immersive theatrical experience following the trials and tribulations of Imelda Marcos. Shoes not included.
Bullets Over Broadway
Five time Tony Award® winning director and choreographer Susan Stroman brings this new musical to the stage with a team of Broadway veterans. Adapted by Woddy Allen from the award-winning film, Bullets Over Broadway tells the story of an aspiring young playwright (Zach Braff) newly arrived on Broadway in 1920’s New York who is forced to cast a mobster’s talentless girlfriend in his latest drama in order to get it produced.
Let’s hope that Stroman has better luck with this material than her first screen-to-stage adaptation of the season, Big Fish, which closed after a disappointing 98 performances. Our bets are on Bullets with a star turn from Marin Mazzie in the role so deliciously portrayed on screen by Dianne Wiest…. “Don’t speak.”
Bullets Over Broadway
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street
Opening night: April 10
Guess who’s back in the house? Four-time Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein (Kinky Boots, Newsies, La Cage aux Folles) comes Casa Valentina, his first play in almost 30 years and his first-ever collaboration with Manhattan Theatre Club. Two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello (Take Me Out, Wicked) directs this world premiere based on actual events.
Back in 1962, most men went to the Catskill Mountains to escape the summer heat, but others took the two-hour drive to escape something else entirely: being men. Nestled in the land of dirty dancing and borscht belt comedy sat an inconspicuous bungalow colony that catered to a very special clientele: heterosexual men whose favorite pastime was dressing and acting as women. It was paradise for these men—white-collar professionals with families—to spend their weekends discreetly and safely inhabiting their chosen female alter egos. But when faced with the opportunity to become an official organization, these “self-made women” had to decide whether public recognition would help them gain a place in open society or spell their own personal disaster.
Infused with Fierstein’s trademark wit, this new play offers a glimpse into the lives of a group of unforgettable characters as they search for acceptance and happiness in their very own Garden of Eden.
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
Opening night: April 24
Hey, that’s only two! Take the jump for our last pick of the month.
Contributor Lindsay B. Davis takes a look at 21st century suburbia with the help of playwright Will Eno and the superb cast of The Realistic Joneses.
Characters in The Realistic Joneses, Will Eno’s absurdist new dramedy at the Lyceum Theatre, spend a great deal of time looking up. Whether at the constellations, fireworks, or a hot air balloon, the choreography of their gazes work like Pinter pauses, helping to define the rhythm of this swiftly moving piece by emerging at specific times, in this case when one must gather thoughts, avert the close gaze of a counterpart or find comfort in the safety of living somewhere nestled in the mountains.
I am often struck by how content I am to watch certain actors do very little and in this case, the talent – a gifted, four-person ensemble cast featuring veterans Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, Hostages, The Wild Party), Tracy Letts (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Homeland), Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny, The Wrestler, Top Girls, Salome) and Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under, Cabaret, Chicago) – can look up all day and I would watch. Beyond that, they leverage virtuosity into simplicity, lifting Eno’s crafty dialogue and vignette-like structure into laughs and poignant emotional punches.
We meet the first set of Joneses, Jennifer (Collette) and Bob (Letts), chitchatting in their backyard surrounded by tall pines and the silence of suburbia (beautifully realized by scenic designer David Zinn.) “What are your fears?” asks Jennifer, who wants to dive deep, much to Bob’s chagrin. Letts flexes comedic muscles from the get-go, his rather salty, hefty deliveries calling out the obvious without condescension. To Bob’s relief, the conversation can’t plunge into terribly deep emotional valleys because it is interrupted by the arrival of a second set of Joneses, the upbeat Pony (Tomei) and John (Hall), who have just to moved into a house down the road and arrive as if fresh off the bus from a day at camp. Besides a shared last name, the couples don’t appear to have much in common. Pony is jovial and neurotic while Jennifer is weighted and direct. John is bemused and delighted to make their acquaintance, while Bob can’t wait to go to sleep.
After the requisite getting-to-know-you’s (Bob works for the Department of Transportation, Jennifer makes her living as a bookkeeper, Pony works for an online greeting card company and John does something with heating and A/C installations) things start getting real. Why do Bob and Jennifer prefer living in this town with a good school district? “Because,” Jen says, “Bob hates stupid children.” When Pony and John are leaving, the latter says, “This was fun. Not fun, some other word.” And after their new neighbors go home for the night, Jennifer says to Bob, “It was nice watching you with people.”
What follows are eleven more scenes in which a plot lightly unfolds as if from the hand of a Blackjack dealer flipping cards. One by one, a series of reveals, we learn of illness (both men have a similar and rare disease called HLS, which Jennifer explains is congenital and Pony is relieved can’t be caught), medical treatments, attractions to each other’s spouses, deep anxieties that manifest as comedic neurosis (again, Pony, “I feel like I should go to med school or get my hair cut”) and all the Joneses varied attempts to find peace through such outlets as prayer, meditation and medication. But, to quote two tourists I overhead while exiting the theater—
“What the heck was that just about?”
“I don’t know!”
—this is not a play that is most appealing for reasons of story. Rather, it is one that draws you in because its characters are beholden to language, using it to observe, avoid and engage, heavily relying upon it to connect, but ultimately looking for things in themselves and from each other that cannot be put into words.