by Samuel L. Leiter
Nicky Silver (Pterodactyls, The Lyons), comic dramatist of family angst, is at it again with Vineyard Theatre’s This Day Forward, a schizophrenic dramedy that has an idea about the vagaries of love—romantic, marital, familial, straight and gay—and doesn’t know what to do with it. Its first act, set in a fancy hotel room and dealing with a newlyweds’ catastrophe, could almost be a fourth act in Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite; Act Two, however, taking place nearly half a century later, could be any play set in an apartment and dealing with an all-too-common family crisis.
Act One, introduced in a prologue by well-to-do, Jewish, New Yorker Martin Resnick (Michael Crane), takes place in 1958 in a room at New York’s St. Regis Hotel, to which he and his bride, Irene (Holley Fain), have repaired. Martin’s still in his tux, Irene in her white bridal gown (Kaye Voyce did the fine costumes), and he’s eager to make whoopee with what he assumes is his virginal spouse. The mildly ditzy Irene isn’t interested, though; instead, she confesses to the startled groom that she not only doesn’t love him but that the big lug she does love, an Albanian, Greek Orthodox grease jockey named Emil (Joe Tippett), is on his way so the couple can run off to Acapulco, the newlyweds’ honeymoon destination.
This absurd situation leads to farcically strained situations as Martin, who insists on his love and believes he can make Irene love him back, fights desperately to save his marriage in the face of Irene’s loutish but friendly lover, who arrives decked out in his sweaty garage gear. Things grow more bizarre with the involvement of Melka (June Gable), an old, heavily accented, Polish chambermaid, and her pilfering son, the uniformed room-service waiter, Donald (Andrew Burnap), who advise Irene on which man to choose. The already uneven tone shifts radically from shaky farce to dark despair.
Silver’s theme of love’s idiosyncrasies, which fly in the face of reason, continues in Act Two, set in 2004, and located in the upscale loft of successful stage director Noah Resnick, Martin and Irene’s gay son. The same actors from act one appear but—except for a fantasy sequence involving the young Irene and Emil—in different roles; Michael Crane thus plays Martin’s son.
We learn that, during the intervening years Irene and the recently deceased Martin remained entwined in a love/hate marriage/war. We’re now in a situation where Noah and his actor boyfriend Leo (Burnap) quarrel over Noah’s plans to move to LA to direct TV shows. Silver then shifts to an unnecessary flashback scene showing Noah’s first date with Leo.
Back in the future of 2004, the plot is complicated by a dispute between Noah and his sister, Sheila (Francesca Faridany), over who should assume responsibility for the dementia-afflicted Irene. Sheila’s been taking care of her but Irene’s behavior has gotten out of hand.
The disheveled Irene herself (now played by June Gable, much shorter than the actress sharing the role), who’s been picked up by the police after running off in her pajamas to JFK, enters, garnering laughs by her profanity and eccentric remarks. Finally, this discombobulated work ends with a sentimental tableau that explains what happened that fateful night so long ago.
Veteran June Gable’s Melka is too caricaturish but her Irene, which has nothing in common with how her younger self is portrayed, offers fine comic pathos; she gets a big laugh when she tells Noah she made him gay to get back at his father. Crane and Fain give their all in the first act, but neither is right for their cartoonish Jewish couple (which may draw your attention to the second act’s lines about casting); Crane, though, whose Noah could very well be Martin, is much truer as the former. Faridany’s Sheila is too continually overwrought, while Burnap and, especially, Tippett, are excellent.
The play (Act One, at any rate) reads funnier than it plays under Mark Brokaw’s direction, which inspires only scattered and mild laughter. There is, though, a memorable moment of physical humor when the angry Martin leaps off the bed to be stopped in midair by Donald’s outstretched hand. The best thing in the show, in fact, are its visuals, particularly Allen Moyer’s substantial sets, carefully lit by David Lander. But in this case, the scenery doesn’t equal substance.
This Day Forward
108 E. 15th St., NYC
Through December 18
Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).