Rory (Eve Johnson) and Bernard (Richard Masur) wouldn’t seem to have much in common. He’s a retired, 70 year-old man who drinks in the afternoon and struggles with his beloved wife’s encroaching dementia. She’s a fifth grader navigating the throes of a dysfunctional second family helmed by a “bonus” father (stepfather). Nonetheless, when the two climb out their respective windows and serendipitously meet on roofs of closely adjacent houses, he doesn’t dismisses insistent overtures.
Without being told till much later, we have a sense that Bernard’s been a father. He’s patient, bemused, and careful not to tread where vocabulary and subject matter is beyond age appropriate. Playwright Erin Mallon’s dialogue is not, however, overly sweet, nor is her story. From the start, there’s a sense of the weight on Bernard’s shoulders while complications of Rory’s life belie her good spirits.
In the course of this beautifully written, sensitive play, we learn about both lives in imaginative detail. (Love the mousetrap conceit.) Rory swings widely from precocious to babyish with one foot in childhood, the other in adolescence. Born Jewish, the girl realizes she’s in Catholic school to get a better education, yet has a fit when, reading the label she’s just pulled off a new pillow, she’s afraid arrest is imminent. (Under penalty of law, this label is not to be removed…) This would play more realistically were the latter not overemphasized by screeching and flailing.
On the one hand, Rory asks the right questions (beneficial to him) about Bernard’s family and later offers a preternaturally wise gift to her new friend’s unseen wife. On the other, she seems to have no knowledge of sex or its terminology – something less plausible than the rest of the contemporary play, but deftly handled. She’s forthcoming, while reasons for his state of mind are revealed slowly. Over time, the two get to know and care about one another. To Mallon’s credit, this happens gradually and is entirely credible.
Richard Masur is splendid. We believe his pain, gentleness, exhaustion, and need. The actor’s understated performance seems to be taking place in real time. Moments of inebriated instability are jarringly (we’re, after all, on a roof) real. Protective instincts are sympathetic.
Unfortunately, the production suffers a severe casting handicap. Though Eve Johnson, actually a fifth grader, is cute, doesn’t drop a line, and projects self consciousness we might easily attribute to Rory, she’s also greatly unintelligible. Vast sections of dialogue are lost to indistinct, too fast, and high pitched delivery of lines.
Rory’s credibility is also stretched by Director Mark Cirnigliaro’s decision to make her an intermittent hysteric which doesn’t fit with the rest of the written character. Cirnigliaro’s take on Bernard is solid. Physical direction is well observed. Pacing works well.
To my mind, the only thing wrong with Matthew J. Fick’s apt Set is its window curtains, all of which are flimsy and white as if neither household had any individuality. Peter Fogel’s Costume Design is spot on.
Photos by Jody Christopherson
Opening: Eve Johnson, Richard Masur
Mile Square Theatre and The Collective NY present
The Net Will Appear by Erin Mallon
Directed by Mark Cirnigliaro
59E59 Theaters Through December 30, 2018