John’s wife, Deb, a lawyer, is adamant about not having kids. (He works in an office). John is taking a private tour of the Serengeti with an angry, bitter guide named Deborah who insists on expounding on dung beetles instead of showing him elephants. (He’s just started working at a restaurant). Is this John that John? John is married to another? Deborah, a doctor, who is miserable and inexpressive about her job while he’s miserable and expressive about his. John buys Deb a puppy for obvious reasons. John and Deborah have bedbugs. Deb plays the role of an exterminator. John has to tell his daughter that her mother has died. The mother may have been Deb. The doctor may have been Deborah. In between there are recitations of clever David Letterman-like lists, much shifting of pillows, and endless musical “pings” accompanied by blackouts between vignettes. Have you got vertigo yet?
Anna Moench can write. Intermittent scenes and speeches ring exceedingly smart and true. Unto themselves, one Deb and one Deborah are cohesive characters. John morphs too many times for clarity. It’s as if the author took all her thoughts and sketches (there’s a theme in there somewhere: Parenthood? Relationships? Emotional responsibility?), put them in a hat, and pulled out a sequence whose overall meaning is lost in an irritating shuffle.
Julie Fitzpatrick (Deb) is irritating as hell, which indicates she’s got her character down cold. Underplaying works here. Her turn as the exterminator is unfortunate.
Vanessa Wache (Deborah) is believable as the guide, showcasing her dramatic chops in several strong scenes. She’s a complete cipher as the doctor. Eric Bryant (John) does a yeoman like job, though his almost consistently even temper in light of what life throws at him is not only difficult to believe but sometimes at odds with dialogue.
Director David F. Chapman offers nothing to distinguish one character from another. Staging is obtuse. When are we witnessing who? Why are lists pontificated abstractly from a height? Actions are obvious. Reactions, when we can see them, minimized. Why are sightlines impeded by actors not in a scene sitting on the edge of the “pit” instead down in it where a view wouldn’t be blocked?
Maruti Evens’ high concept Set seems like a good idea but, as staged, contributes to confusion. Pillows are ineffectively used.
Heather Klar’s Costumes are unflattering and dull. Surely a successful lawyer would not look like a down at the heels Midwestern school marm. The doctor could’ve worn a crisp coat and the guide sport something, anything appropriate to the terrain. Only John appear to be dressed in appropriate clothing.
A miss, I’m afraid.
Photo by Mike Klar
Firework Theater presents
The Pillow Book by Anna Moench
Directed by David F. Chapman
With Eric Bryant, Julie Fitzpatrick, and Vanessa Wasche
59E59 St. Theaters
59east 59th Street
Through August 20, 2011