by Cathy Hammer
Anyone who has been in a long term relationship has likely experienced a “song and dance” argument. One person says that thing, the other responds with that other thing, and they’re off, running the same unproductive angry routine. Certainly that is what Julie and Robert are experiencing when we first meet them in Fiercely Independent. He feels put upon by his wife, sensing that he is always coming up short without understanding why. She states she is no longer seen by her husband which has left her sad and empty. They have agreed to stay for the next 24 hours in a hotel room not far from their home in order to get to the bottom of their problems and reach a resolution.
Julie has brought with her a sheet of ten guidelines for their talk. Though the list is obviously considered and sensible (no alcohol, no cellphones, no cursing), it is never made clear where it came from. Neither mentions the therapist they could definitely use and Robert doesn’t seem to have completely bought into the exercise. Additionally, it is heavily foreshadowed that there will be at least one rules violation, but when it comes it is rather meek and doesn’t disrupt the circular dialogue sufficiently to dramatically escalate or deescalate the conversational tennis match.
Caitlin Gallogly and Christopher M. Smith bring a strong sense of realism to their roles. Their body language flows from the ease of familiar togetherness to the tautness of hurt from the wounds they’ve inflected on each other. From his first sigh, Smith shows that Robert wants to quickly get on to the next chapter, preferably a brunch in the sunshine. Even better is Gallogly who makes use of her ability to handle both comedic timing and dramatic tension to play up Julie’s bottomless desire to please. Whether she is using silly voices to charm or cutting remarks to dent Robert’s armor, she remains committed to Julie’s inner turmoil.
However, neither actor can overcome the limited storytelling provided in the script by seasoned producer Kathleen K. Johnson. There are too many unanswered questions not only between the two of them, but between them and us. The set-up is further weakened by their relatively young age — surely people in their early 30s have more options both personally and professionally than these two profess to have. Rather than getting an engaging deep dive into a frayed loving relationship we get a tsunami of tedious bickering. Their communication is so terrible that it is difficult to understand what brought these two together or to feel invested in their final decision. Welcome interruptions are provided by a charmingly choreographed dance, a pop culture card game that goes on long enough for audience members to blurt out the answers, and a few interactions with the bellman appealingly played by Jordan Sobel.
Though, as a playwright, she may have fared better with a collaborator, Johnson is more successful as a director than as a writer. The neat hotel room designed by Will Cotton gives her an interesting space to work with. Rodney Harper’s wardrobe includes an opaque top for Julie’s first scenes through which we can see her bra. It is a questionable and distracting choice given that there’s nothing in the script to indicate that she planning to use seduction and it’s rather dressy for the somber occasion.. Original music written by Andrew David Sotomayor and performed by George Bugatti sets the tone for one of the better interactions.
Caitlin Gallogly’s layered performance is the best reason to see this world premiere of Fiercely Independent. The work itself would benefit from a little therapy.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Fiercely Independent — Off-Broadway at the SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam St. in Manhattan.) Performances are Wednesdays through Fridays at 7 pm; Saturdays at 2 and 7 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm. Runtime is 70 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $59 and can be purchased at https://www.fiercelysoho.com/ or by calling 212-691-1555. Limited run ends April 7.