Saturday, December 26, 2009

New York, Winter 2009 - Day Nine, "This"

Do we take things too seriously? Is life all just a game with a set of rules that feel somewhat ad hoc, not to mention highly-fluid, but infractions of which are nonetheless strictly punished? Should we, as I believe I heard Bugs Bunny say once, not take life too seriously because we'll "never get out of it alive?"

This seems to me to be one of the core conundrums at the heart of Melissa James Gibson's new play, "This," now playing at Playwrights Horizon. The five characters who populate the stage are all bright, successful (at varying levels), skilled (at varying levels) and wounded. At varying levels.

Merrell and Tom and Jane and Alan all knew each other in college. Tom and Merrell got married, Jane married Roy (who appears in this show only as cremains) and Alan is presumably the same verbally-gifted, bitchy, complainy gay man he always was. Jean-Pierre is a French "Doctor without borders" that Merrell wants to set Jane up with, it being nearly a year since her husband (the aforementioned cremains) has died of an unnamed disease.

This is the sort of show that's right up my alley. It's filled with wisecracking urbane sophisticates who wax philosophic on various topics with greater or lesser degrees of irony. They indulge a little too much (which leads to an hysterical moment where the character holding the two bottles which contain all the remaining liquor asks someone to "pass the Triple Sec" and another character reaches out and lifts her elbow so the bottle in her hand comes into her view), and they talk constantly. Like I said, perfect for me.

And though I loved the show, laughed a lot and appreciated the amazing set by Louisa Thompson, and the theatricality of it all, and though I loved all the intellectual banter, I felt something was missing. Some sort of soul to the play. Maybe I just didn't like the perfectness of all the character's jobs: Merrell is a jazz singer/pianist in nightclubs, Tom an artistic cabinetmaker, Jane a published poet now teacher, Jean-Pierre is the aforementioned philanthropic man of medicine and Alan makes his living as a professional mnemonist, a man with a prodigious recall -- a skill which comes to hilarious use late in the show. Maybe it's because some of the topics discussed feel too much like the cute things a writer jots down in a notebook but didn't always seem connected to the characters.

Overall, though, I'd say "This" is worth a look.

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