By Samuel L. Leiter
Replay, part of the annual Brits Off-Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters, is an hour-long, one-woman play written by and starring the talented Nicola Wren, with direction by George Chilcott.
Performed in the three-quarters round under the simplest circumstances—a vinyl floor and a bench (designed by Jen McGinley with lighting by Tom Kitney)—it’s poignant, mildly comic, and well-performed. Unlike the prawns its heroine, W, blames for being “dodgy,” this dramatic morsel is easily digestible and not too filling.
W, her blondish hair efficiently pinned back with bobby pins, is a trim, spirited, forthright London policewoman in her late 20s. She has a working-class accent you may think makes prawns sound like “prunes.” Appearing at first in a thin, gray hoody, thick-soled hiking shoes, black cargo pants, and a blue t-shirt. Soon enough, she discards the hoody and shoes to move earnestly around the intimate space, making everyone her eyeball-to-eyeball confidant, sometimes even sitting right next to someone in the front row.
W’s story concerns events leading up to her interview for promotion to sergeant (the youngest in her district). It all begins with a call by W and her partner to a house in Camden Town where a man has committed suicide, leaving behind his wife and young daughter. This visit, during which W becomes sick from the prawns (or so she says), is linked to W’s opening a birthday gift from her mother.
The gift is a cassette tape made years before for W by her beloved brother, Jamie, whose taking of his own life so traumatized the young W that, for all the veneer of law-enforcement competence she’s acquired, she’s never gotten over it. Unable to resist listening over and over to her brother’s taped birthday message from the past, W is flooded with fun-filled memories of him, including their shared experience of listening to the song “Sit Down” by James. But there are nightmares as well.
Eventually, W, whose obsession with the tape is mingled with other unsettling events, finds a way not only to cope with her feelings but to add compassion—remember the Camden suicide?—to her policing skill set.
Wren is energetic and engaging, changing her voice just enough to suggest different characters. She also offers some rather demanding physical business, throwing herself to the ground repeatedly to the commands of “Sit Down.” Max Perrymount helps greatly with his excellent sound design, including prerecorded voices for Jamie (Mark Weinman) and others.
Wren’s brief script is filled with incident, characters, and sidebar comments, like those about her partner Derek. However, judging by some of W’s behavior after she begins listening to the tape, one might wonder if she isn’t in need of some serious therapy before she continues in her line of work.
After all, it’s not likely she’d want a replay of what those prawns were blamed for.
Replay. Through May 13 at 59E59 Theaters, Theater C (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). One hour, 15 minutes, no intermission. www.59E59.org