Dr. Ride’s American Beach House – Ars Nova

Marga Gomez, Erin Markey, Kristen Sieh

 

 

by Adam Cohen

 

What to make of Liza Birkenmeier’s play “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House”?  Is it a rueful meditation on stumbling into adulthood and avoiding coming to terms with our life choices?  A fun house mirror cautionary tale of wallowing in life and relationship stasis?  The sticky resolution of friendship turned romantic?

The drama is set the night before the launch of the space shuttle and astronaut Dr. Sally Ride aboard the Challenger in 1983 on a roof-top in St. Louis.  Ride was the first American woman in space, a physicist, and closeted lesbian.  On the roof, Harriet (Kristen Sieh) and Matilda (Erin Markey), friends since high school, are taking a break from their waitressing jobs, hanging out, listening to the radio, eying their neighbors through a pair of binoculars, sneaking a smoke, drinking beer, chatting.  They avoid Harriet’s landlord Norma (Susan Blommaert), a fussy woman full of complaint of flies and dripping air conditioners – she represents the life statis.

Matilda is a wife and mother, Harriet has an on-and-off boyfriend but she had a dalliance in Florida while visiting her mother in hospice.  Matilda frequently breaks into song (mostly love songs.) The two joke that they’re attending the latest meeting of the Two Serious Ladies Book Club (Two Serious Ladies is a landmark 1943 novel written by Jane Bowles about a lesbian relationship.)  Here’s the relationship maw without resolution.

 

Susan Blommaert, Kristen Sieh

 

And then there’s Meg (Marga Gomez) the horny lesbian Matilda is aquainted with.  She hasn’t read the book, but she’s brought wine.  Harriet and Matilda chafe at one another and their lives.  They clearly have affection and history.  But Maltida has the husband and sick child.  They are two boxers weaving, punch drunk about the ring, jabbing, teasing.  Meg – like a puppy bubbles with libido.  She’s wise and (if I’m using the word correctly) woke.  The others are mired in their own circumstances.

The play is quiet with a soft underbelly.  There’s a quiet naturalism to the language and performances.  But it lingers a bit too long without movement.  Each actress has nice moments.  Gomez as she helps Harriet after a traumatic moment with spectacular air drumming.  Markey’s warm flirtation and avoidance.  Sieh seizes on a monologue about relatives in Florida and the aftermath of death.  Blommaert’s cameos are memorable and specific with brilliant physical and verbal tics.

Director Katie Brook leans into the underbelly with languid lugubriousness.  Kimie Nishikawa’s set is a lovely accurate rooftop with skylight.  Oona Curley’s lights are fine, slowly dimming as the day wisps away.

Photos: Ben Arons Photography

 

Dr Ride’s American Beach House is on stage through November 23, 2019 Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission

Arsnovanyc.com

 

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