By Sandi Durell
Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like . . . fire and water in the case of Martin (Michael Crane) and Irene (Holley Fain) in Nicky Silver’s new absurd and dark farce at the Vineyard Theatre. Silver has been with the Vineyard since 1993 when Pterodactyls premiered and in 2011, we laughed through The Lyons with Linda Lavin.
It’s now 1958 and Martin and Irene have just married and are in their 12th floor St, Regis hotel suite – Martin is romantic and anxious to consummate the marriage, Irene is just . . . anxious. She has something to tell him. . . (what could it be?) Martin says she can tell him anything, anything! Finally after much ado she admits “I don’t love you.” Devastation! Irene – “I knew you’d be upset.”
Martin, you see, comes from a well to do family (and he is Jewish) so she said ‘yes’ to him, she explains, in a very matter-of-fact manner.
The quick-witted repartee flies like sparks around the room when Irene admits to having a lover –Emil, a grease monkey, who suddenly appears. Emil is your average mechanic-type (a funny Joe Tippett) – a little grubby looking, nice body – as she and Emil begin bickering, fighting and silliness prevails while Martin’s jaw is perpetually dropped in disbelief. A small riot breaks out, slapstick style.
The guys leave to fight and next we see the Polish hotel maid (June Gable) laying on the bed, her son (the busboy – Andrew Burnap), looking through drawers/closets to see what he can steal before Irene reappears from the bathroom. The chatter is all about their fractured mother-son relationship, the maid’s lusty affair back in Krakow when she was 16 and her advice to Irene: stay with Martin, live in a big house where I’ll come and be the maid and take care of your children.
Martin pays Emil off to leave and never return but you can’t stop passion; Irene is ready to go to him. Martin slaps Irene repeating “you will love me, you will love me.” And the saga begins.
Years later, 2004 to be precise, Act II opens in a swanky high-rise apartment (scenic design Allen Moyer) where we meet Noah (Crane doing double duty), the son of Irene and Martin. Noah is a gay film director with a live-in actor boyfriend, Leo (Burnap). Noah is markedly anxious awaiting a visit from his elderly mother who seems to have gone off the charts, when his sister Sheila (the always wonderful Francesca Faridany) arrives. She’s more than on edge nervous having their mother living with her; barbs fly as they argue over who will take Mom now or should she be put in “the coffin” (Mom’s description of the nursing facility). Mom arrives – June Gable playing the older Irene to perfection – dropping expletives and telling Noah God made you gay to spite your father. Seems she was on her way to Acapulco rather than be put in “the coffin.” She continually calls Noah, Martin. Noah is aghast at the thought of having her live with him, as Leo walks out and Irene is caught in her memories of old . . . the ghost of Emil whom she can’t forget.
Most of the two hours (with one intermission) is filled with chuckles and situations to which we can all relate when it comes to dysfunctional families and toxic parents.
The ensemble, directed by Mark Brokaw, ebbs and flows with a familiarity and mostly precision timing. Holley Fain is adorable as the somewhat ditzy lovelorn or maybe love-worn, Irene. Michael Crane is stalwart as the rejected bridegroom. But this is one of Silver’s uneven plays, unlike The Lyons. It spurts and sputters rather than continue rolling along.
VineyardTheatre.org – 108East 15th Street NYC – 2 hours, one intermission thru December 18
Photos: Carol Rosegg