NY Theater Review by Alix Cohen
Cecily (Susan Louise O’Connor) is secretly crashing in the conservation office of the museum where she’s employed as an art restorer. Up till now, she’s been protected by good natured maintenance man, Denny (Bob Greenberg) who retrieves absentminded signs of broader nesting: a vibrator left next to pyramids, a curling iron in the teepee. (?!) Unfortunately, management has caught on and is coming to evict her. Grabbing her happy Buddha statue, cheery, fake flowers, and canvas sack (Denny will follow with the sleeping bag), she flees.
Only estranged sister Janey (Melissa Macleod Herion) might provide refuge to the unmoored Cecily. (Their father left when the girls were very young, mom died a year ago.) While Cecily is childlike and irresponsible to the point of cloying, Janey is an ambitious, conservative lawyer obsessed with finding a husband. Cecily, who takes after her imaginative, mentally ill mom, creates art installations (one inadvertently set fire to her sister’s dorm room). Janey, determined to compensate for her upbringing, chose as opposite a route as she could find. She writes lists bent on manifesting her perfect life. Cecily is provisionally taken in.
The set up and much of what follows is derivative/formulaic, though not without its attractions. During the first third, I regret my attendance. Dialogue is weak. Denny’s character is so cliché, he refers to relationships as pasta dishes. Janey’s character is all too familiar. When the refrigerator door begins to open of its own accord as their dead mother speaks (from within?), lights go rosey, and tinkley wind chimes sound, I heave a sigh.
With the living room couch as vertebrae, Cecily constructs an igloo, or something resembling one, out of white-painted, house paraphernalia, cotton balls, and multiple umbrellas. The single appealing part of Jennifer Varbalow’s set; it’s apparently quite a bit larger than it looks inside i.e. magical: cue lights and wind chimes. (Think the camping tents of Harry Potter.) She’s thrilled with her accomplishment but not only can’t get Janey to venture inside, is ordered to dismantle the piece.
At this point, Janey accidently meets Elliot (Hunter Canning) in a bookstore, changing her temperament to sunny bonhomie. Clearly the Wall Street numbers man is more husband material than current companion, Tom (Alberto Bonilla), who has borrowed her high heels. Janey schedules an appointment for her bridal gown fitting directly after meeting Elliot. She gushes to Cecily making date after date with the oddly acquiescent young man…who is developing other affections.
Backstories of Cecily and Janey’s childhood and of Cecily’s more recent time with their mother keeps the play from going south. Dialogue and acting, where these come into play, is interesting and solid. Elliot’s unsuspected commonalities with Cecily are original conjecture. Truth about the easily dismissed Tom is clever. These parentheses and some good performances will entertain if your fantasy threshold is high. The playwrights have talent. They just seem to have been swallowed and spit up by fairyland. Reality, as penned, is not strong or consistent enough to offer balance.
Susan Louise O’Connor is excellent at Cecily, so credible she’s persistently annoying until we learn what we need to grow sympathetic. Excavating the character’s past is particularly well manifest. The actress is also very fine at physically embodying thoughts and emotions. Specifics are well thought out.
Melissa Macleod Herion has an uphill climb for us to find anything unique about Janey, though she might’ve done something with mannerism. The actress does better when her character confronts crisis.
Both Alberto Bonilla (Tom) and Hunter Canning (Elliot) offer nice turns despite being handicapped by material. Bonilla is believably reticent as Tom reveals himself. Canning’s Elliot is charmingly taken upon first encountering Cecily. His expression is priceless.
Director David S. Stone may be too close to the material.
The Diorama by Jennifer Brown Stone and David S. Stone
Original Story and Characters by Jennifer Brown Stone
Directed by David S. Stone
The Lion Theater 410 West 42nd Street
Through June 14