Monday, April 21, 2008

Stream of Consciousness Weekend - Part 1

"God's Ear" at the Vineyard Theatre, April 18, 2008

I like the risks that the Vineyard Theatre takes. Most of what I've seen here I've liked a lot. With their last offering of "The Slugbearers of Kayrol Island" and "God's Ear" they seem to have gotten a bit distracted with achieving superior production values spent on works that don't necessarily merit that kind of investment.

I try not to read other reviews before I write my own, but I did happen to catch the review of "God's Ear" in the NY Times after having seen it, but before I started this post. I certainly don't have the literary background of Mr. Isherwood, but I couldn't see the merits he found in this work by Jenny Schwartz.

"God's Ear" follows (sort of) a family in grief after the death of their young son. I can't imagine anything more difficult in life than the loss of a child, and I certainly hope that was not a true-life experience for Ms. Schwartz. If so, I can understand writing something like this as a form of therapy to deal with her grief.

The result however, is an absurdist, stream of consciousness, semi-linear, platitudinous, cliche-ridden mess written in verse.

I knew going in that the story was sad and based on loss and children, so I tried to prepare myself for an emotional evening. I anticipated something moving and cathartic, perhaps not as painful as a French film I saw more than ten years ago called "Ponette" about how a four year old girl copes with her mother's death (I was sad for a week after that one).

Mel (Christina Kirk) and Ted (Gibson Frazier) have lost their son following an accident at the lake. Their young daughter Lanie (Monique Vukovic) doesn't really understand as children sometimes don't. Ted detaches in his own grief, seeking solace in his travel for his job. Along the way, The Tooth Fairy ( Judith Greentree) drops in (yes, The Tooth Fairy), followed by a transvestite Flight Attendant and GI Joe (Matthew Montelongo). Ted also meets Lenora (Rebecca Wisocky) and Guy (Raymond McAnally) in some of the hotel and airport bars.

Ms. Kirk's Mel, scrubbed and plainly pretty attempts to pull at the heartstrings, but she never quite reaches them. I found her delivery stilted, with noticeably odd breathing choices in her line readings. Maybe Anne Kaufman directed her to do this? Hard to tell. I saw glimmers of Frances Conroy in her, but overall she lacked consistency.

Mr. Frazier's Ted is a bit more natural, but never establishes any chemistry with Ms. Kirk to make their uncomfortable distance feel plausible.

It is Ms. Wisocky's Lenora who brings Ted to life, both in the script and in the performance. She is the newcomer to this cast from its production in May of 2007 at New Georges and she's the only one who seems to *get* it. She makes the cliches and platitudes sound spontaneous and natural.

Ms. Vukovic's Lanie is serviceable, but unremarkable, as is Ms. Greentree's Tooth Fairy.

I'm still trying to figure out why Mr. Montelongo's Flight Attendant had to be a transvestite, other than they wanted a hunky man to play GI Joe and the economics pointed toward combining the roles.

Ms. Kaufman's direction attempts to keep the proceedings apace, but more often than not, the actors are dragged under by the weight of the lugubrious scrip.

The star of this production is Kris Stone's shiny dark blue paneled platform. I really liked how the panels opened to suggest various settings including Lanie's bed, Lenora's hotel bar and a snowy outdoor scene. The effect of compartmentalizing grief to process it a bit at a time was most effective. Tyler Micoleau's lighting, though occasionally dim, was generally complementary.

No comments: