Tuesday, November 17, 2009


"This" at Playwrights Horizons, November 17, 2009

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Jane (Julianne Nicholson) doesn't like games, particularly since her husband died almost a year ago, leaving her with a precocious child and no energy or ambition to expand her world. Long-time college friend Marrell (Eisha Davis) has found a sexy French doctor, Jean-Pierre (Louis Cancelmi) for Jane, sublimating her own lust and frustration of life with cabinet-maker husband Tom (Darren Pettie) and a newborn son who only sleeps in 15 minute increments. Alan (Glenn Fitzgerald) is the annoying, long-time gay friend/plot contrivance that facilitates exposition.

Playwright Melissa James Gibson sets her oddly titled story in various New York-like locations, Jane spends most of her time avoiding her own grief while placating her friends. In the opening game, Jane is sent out of the room, while her friends supposedly make up a story. Actually they don't, but Jane is to figure out the story by asking questions. Those ending in a vowel are answered "yes." Those ending in consonant are answered "no" and those in a Y, "maybe." Unwittingly, Jane's series of questions point the story to that of her own, revealing the dead husband. It's an interesting device to raise the emotional stakes early on. I had hoped to see the game repeated throughout the 100 minute, intermissionless evening, continuing its early success. Still, Ms. Gibson tosses in some interesting plot twists along with nice dialog, though each of the characters does have a tendency to sound like a grammar lesson on occasion.

Ms. Nicholson, fresh from "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" is actually a replacement in the role of Jane, originally intended for Parker Posey. I don't know the details behind the change, but it has turned out to be a wise one. Her Jane is grounded and lost, focused and distracted, all at the same time. Her final monologue, apologizing to her daughter for losing her temper is lovely.

Ms. Davis' Marrell twists and writhes under the pressure of new motherhood and her own self-pressure to do it perfectly, while also trying to perfect her less-than-perfect husband. There's a lovely humanity in her portrayal of this flawed character.

Mr. Pettie, rugged and handsome, gives a nicely shaded performance as the blue-collar type holding his own among a collegiate social circle. Mr. Fitzgerald does the best he can with the limited character sketch he's been provided, a coincidental mnemologist (one who can remember conversations verbatim - his one solo scene demonstrating this skill is superfluous and could easily be cut). Mr. Canclemi's sexy Jean-Pierre brings a sense of reason and balance to the group of naval-gazing friends. It is his inability to translate a description of the self-centered climactic plot revelations that awkwardly provides the play's title.

Director Daniel Aukin props the humor up front when things could get miserably dark, keeping the pace moving, though the cut mentioned above is only one possibility for tightening up the evening. Louisa Thompson's heavily layered set serves well as three different apartments, a nightclub and a sidewalk, accomplished with complementary lighting by Matt Frey.

Playwrights Horizons is offering discounted tickets:

Order by Nov.25 with the code
THGR to get tickets for only $40 for performances Nov. 6 - Nov. 15 (reg. $65), or $50 for performances October Nov. 17 - Dec. 13 (reg. $65).

To order: visit www.playwrightshorizons.org or call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, open daily noon-8:00 pm.

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