Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Intellectual plays are only as good as they are clever, and although Strings is occasionally very smart, the majority of Carole Buggé’s text goes about reminding us of that fact. (Characters are constantly quoting poetry as if Brit-Lit were the intellectual equivalent of street cred.) The conversations about string theory are fascinating, but not when the actors have to break the fourth wall and use illustrative examples to explain it. That’s like admitting that the parallels between science and society aren’t clear enough. As for the affair at the heart of this play—June cheats on her cosmologist husband, George, with their best friend, Rory (a particle physicist)—it must not be interesting enough, because Buggé adds their scientific idols: there’s a very foppish Isaac Newton (Drew Dix), a dowdy Marie Curie (Andrea Gallo), and a very stolid Max Planck (Kurt Elftmann). Rather than fix the tedium of the train ride or the lulls in the conversation, Buggé uses fantasy to build intimate exposition. As a final element, there’s the raw emotion of June and Rory’s dead son—not just dead, by the way, but 9/11ed. (If playwrights are going to keep using 9/11 as a tragic catchall, then I can verb the tragedy.)
The Open Book production company focuses on minimalist productions that emphasize the literature and the script more than the theatrics, and that’s fine for a thinking play like Buggé’s. But it also means that when the text dries up or the actors falter, there’s nothing to distract us. Mia Dillon’s fine playing Rory as a callous flirt, but it’s hard to believe her when she’s crying over her dead son. Keir Dullea doesn’t seem to know his lines, but he’s fortunately cast as a pompous aristocrat, which makes it hard to tell when he’s fumbling or just being British. The shining star of this piece is Warren Kelley, whose roguish, cockney explanations of the uncertainty principle make for jarring, dramatic work, and a world where Strings can parallel Frayn’s Copenhagen.
The second act brings a nice twist: this time, Rory and June are married, and George is the cheating best friend. It’s interesting to watch the events play out again, but when June says, for the second time, that she’s got the oddest feeling of déjà vu, it loses its charm. Strings suffers the same fate: the story itself (and the science) is interesting enough, but only when left alone. The more Buggé adds, the emptier it seems.
78th Street Theater Lab (236 West 78th Street)
Tickets (212-362-0329): $18.00
Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:15