by Michael Bracken
There’s plenty of energy, of a decidedly athletic bent, in Lee Sunday Evans’s production of Jack Thorne’s Sunday, at the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater. Evans, credited as both director and choreographer, has her twenty-something cast stop almost mid-sentence at various points throughout the piece, as their characters surrender to the beat of loud, driving music with frenetic, kinetic abandon.
There’s no apparent logic to these bursts of choreography, which include touches of sprinting, break dancing, push-ups, piggy-back rides and other unbridled activity. You’d think the dance cum calisthenics would disrupt the narrative flow, but the opposite is true. It infuses the characters with life, giving them another dimension, underscoring their youth and their vitality.
The play is centered around a book club, meeting to discuss Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Perched in a hole in the wall – the rear brick wall of Brett J. Banakis’s witty, homey set, which is dominated by a huge mountain of books – sits narrator Alice (Ruby Frankel), who sets the scene while Marie (Sadie Scott) and Jill (Juliana Canfield) run around their apartment, preparing for the arrival of the rest of the group.
Alice, Keith (Christian Strange), and Milo (Zane Pais) arrive, and the badinage begins: sophisticated, childish, insightful, obtuse. It’s what you’d expect from a quintet of smart, socially conscious if self-involved post-collegiate types; Thorne dexterously and drolly captures the perfect tone. Sometimes the conversation focuses on the book, sometimes not, but either way personal observations – leading to personal attacks – abound.
Jill is the most centered, with the least to prove. She and Milo are a couple, but there’s palpable sexual chemistry between her and Marie. Keith is a little out there, always on the lookout for toxic masculinity. He and Milo have been best friends since prep school, where he was a minority scholarship student and Milo the scion of old money.
There’s an edge, albeit a slight one, to Alice, who disengages from the scene regularly to give play-by-play commentary to the audience. Milo exudes privilege. He enjoys lobbing barbs in all directions and becomes aggressive to the point of rudeness with Marie. Among other things, he calls her the most self-pitying of the group.
He’s right. Marie, insecure and unhappy by nature, has had a rough time of late. She holds her own during the meeting, but when everyone leaves, including Jill, who goes home with Milo, she breaks down.
She cries loud enough that Bill (Maurice Jones), her downstairs neighbor, comes to her door to check on her.
She learns that he harbors a crush on her, but that doesn’t shore up her self-esteem. There’s talk of sex but the terms are unclear and unreasonable. She’s drunk and erratic.
The scene has genuine poignancy, as when Bill tells Marie the plot of the novel he’s writing, but it seems contrived. It falls flat after the excitement that precedes it.
Director Evans gets high marks on all fronts. Her cast is cohesive and (aided by her choreography) makes enthralling what could have been downright talky. Costumes (Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene) are spot on and lighting (Masha Tsimring) sharp with smooth transitions.
Sunday may not finish as strong as it starts, but it’s a striking take on millennial group dynamics, vividly punctuated by dance without borders.
Photos: Monique Carboni
Through Sunday, October 13th, at the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20th Street). https://atlantictheater.org/ . 90 minutes with no intermission.