by Alix Cohen
Once again playwright Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, Amelie) takes us on a curious journey mixing grounded human foible with fantasy. Here we watch four short playlets.
The first segment shows a post-middle-age couple awkwardly “unbuttoning” for the first time together, he discreetly with his back to us. Insecurity, sweetness and hair-trigger desire are palpable. A video of them is then streamed on television and literally reviewed – everything from nipple size to approach, by academic types. (The same actors) We then return to the original pair reading said critical comments. She’s distressed. He tells her not to give “them” so much power. We feel with the awkward lovers.
Number two is a dark monologue that opens with a man’s fraught relationship to his mother, resulting in fears about emotional balance. Television news clips reflect a Big Brother government, drones, and whistle-blowing. The character is reading The Senate Intelligence Report on Torture. He conjectures we’re moving towards a political atmosphere where people could just be disappeared. “What do we do when the caretakers are not taking care?!” Every moment is thoughtful, conversational. Anxiety is omnipresent.
In three, she’s a bartender closing up when a solitary man walks in. Finding him attractive and hoping for more, she offers free beer. All the woman’s attempts at conversation are met with attentive silence. (It’s fascinating to find the man as impishly appealing as she does without a word spoken.) We hear not only her game and then annoyed prattling on, but that which she’s thinking. Lucas creates a whole, somewhat familiar, sympathetic character. Eventually, she figures out he’s reading her mind…and just who he is.
The last episode begins with a series of video waiting rooms followed by a news clip of The AIDS Memorial Quilt* on the mall near Washington Monument. (Each panel was created in honor of a loved one who passed.) Strangers Jay and Grace stand on a patchwork blanket representing the quilt. A smattering of memories indicates they come from different times. He’s warm, friendly, and accepting. She’s defensive, distant and at first refuses to believe she’s dead. Memory, sex and choices about reincarnation come into the scenario (the matter-of-fact combination is intriguing) as do loved ones who preceded.
Actors Pamela Shaw and Richard Kline are a match made in theatrical heaven. There isn’t a false moment on stage. Every character is so solid, he or she seems to have a fully developed backstory. The players seem to think, listen and react in real time. Fantasy aside, naturalness pervades.
Director Hunter Bird does a simply splendid job.
* “The NAMES Project stages more than 1,000 Quilt displays each year in a variety of venues from schools and universities, corporations and community centers, places or worship and galleries – all in the hopes of making HIV/AIDS real and immediate and turning statistics into souls.” http://www.aidsquilt.org/
59E59 Theaters presents East to Edinburgh
New York’s Annual Edinburgh Festival Preview
July 11-30 2017
Tales of Life and Death by Craig Lucas
Directed by Hunter Bird
Also July 15 & 16 2017
59E59 Street http://www.59e59.org/