by Susan Hasho
Lovely day. Man comes out on his roof to read the paper and have a quiet drink in his folding beach chair and is disturbed by birds chirping. It is obviously a war he has been waging for a while because there are mouse traps all over the tops of the trees surrounding his roof. Then he is disturbed by a red laser point that starts to follow him, scaring him into making the sign of a cross. But wait, a young girl puts her head out from a window on her roof very close to his. She says she is using the laser to help her almost blind cat keep his sight. Bernard accuses her of cat abuse and then the unexpected duet begins between a talkative nine year old girl and a grumpy 75-year-old man. Once Rory hops out onto her roof to continue the conversation with Bernard he will certainly be disturbed into a new and unpredictable exchange.
Rory is “going to be a choreographer, a dolphin trainer and a detective when she grows up.” Bernard is an “Episco Palien” and Rory is Jewish in a Catholic school who’s been living next door for a month.
Small things happen as the play goes on, Bernard reveals more about his wife who never goes out and also convinces Rory that taking a tag off her pillow as a consumer is not a Federal offense. She buried the tag in the backyard though, so all is well, And once Bernard admits that he and his wife have been swapping their pillows out in hotels for the hotel pillows for years, the two are on equal footing. But the small incremental steps these two take are huge in the end.
The humor in The Net Will Appear is born out of a straight man/zany girl set up. But the playwright Erin Mallon uses Rory’s outrageous honesty to break through Bernard’s crusty dissatisfaction and hurt in surprising ways. They talk about first kisses. Their houses are so close that Rory thinks she could leap over to his roof. She does a running start and stops just short of leaping over. And it scares Bernard. Rory: “Does this mean you would have been sad if I got hurt?” “Of course I would.” Rory: Really? I didn’t think you liked me.” “Well. I do.” Rory: I wish I could hug you right now. Wanna do an air hug?”
A little later Rory comes on to the roof with pumpkins, pre-carved. And they start carving together on the separate roofs. Rory was thinking in her bathtub about the two of them, that she doesn’t have much past and he doesn’t have much future, “so that makes this little bit of overlappy time we have together super special.” But this play never rests on sentimentality, so they continue with the pumpkins and use the seed junk inside like it was snot. Enough said.
These several months, this moment that is their “overlappy” time comes to an end. Bernard is going to move close to his wife who has gone into a home. So this time they really do an air hug at Bernard’s suggestion. Not a small step for a crusty old guy and effervescent little girl. It’s a journey that playwright Erin Mallon has slowly and carefully crafted full of risk, humor and heart. She has the perfect actors for this. Eve Johnson as Rory is awkward and charming and truthful to her core. She has a command of the over-talking, active imagination, restless brilliance of this little girl, and is a joy to watch. The perfect foil is the Bernard that Richard Masur creates. Slowly and surely he becomes more and more available to the life force this child offers to share. And never moves one inch closer than necessary. Such a respectful, tender man in all his irritability is both touching and great fun to watch.
The director Mark Cirnigliaro has guided these two actors beautifully. It’s much like a dance and the movement between the two is so natural and inevitable that it’s hard to remember they are each in such a small space and never really together in the same space. But incrementally a great connection happens and a beautiful pas de deux.
The New Will Appear runs until December 30, 2018
Photo: Judy Christopherson
Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) thru Dec. 30.
Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org