The actors aren't the only ones giving a flawless performance in Jenny Schwartz's God's Ear. English itself is taking a bow in this beautifully stylized postmodern tragedy, a poignant, obfuscating look at the language we use when we cannot say what is in our heart, and the blinding power of honesty when at last our heartstrings find the strength to sing.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Language is all the spectacle we need. English's forced protestations, easy convolutions, logical revolutions, and verbal tantalizations are full-throttle in Jenny Schwartz's comic drama, God's Ear. New Georges has done well in the past at tapping artists who are fully utilizing rhythm to tell a story (past productions include Sheila Callaghan's excellent Dead City, and Lisa D'Amour's Anna Bella Eema), and Schwartz is a perfect match for them. The fast-paced repetition of David Ives' Sure Thing colliding with the linguistic sparring of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead makes for the surface; her own lively imagination (both the Tooth Fairy and G.I. Joe are interlocutors in this production) is what lends the text its groove and its edge.
But there is more to to this cavalcade of language than simple logorrhea. Mel begins the play trying to explain the difference between "critical" and "crucial" to her husband, Ted, in regards to the health of their son, Sam. In short gasps of muted suffering, Mel can only dance around the words, and Ted, grief-stricken, makes for a willing participant as he slowly distances himself from the wife he cannot come to terms with. While Mel remains at home, caring for their six-year-old daughter Lanie, Ted flees to the nameless Lenoras of airport lounges or the aptly generic Guys who frequent sports bars and sing songs about what can't be sold on eBay. These characters share a surreal sincerity brought to life by Schwartz's quirky and repetitious humor, and God's Ear is entertaining because of the truth clinging to the fascinatingly facile jokes.
As the play progresses, the words become like music, and not just in the interstitial songs. The staccato desperation, the pleading falsetto, the unexpectedly shrill shrieks, these notes strum directly on the heartstrings. The fabulous cast are virtuosos of their own voices, but they also command equally fine performances from their partners, and I expect that Anne Kauffman's masterful direction brought a lot of cohesion to this difficult script. Kris Stone's whimsical set, a combination of pop-up book and Rubik's cube (all trap-doors and compartments), adds a grounding for the type of world where Schwartz's language runs free, and the fantasy costumes of GI Joe and The Tooth Fairy excuse the unmistakable clash between God's mind and God's ear.
There are segments of God's Ear that could do with a little paring, and Schwartz could be a little less obfuscating when it comes to the tragedy beneath the tumultuous text. But there's nothing wrong with a play that demands our attention as much as our sympathy, and the forceful contrivance of language here does more to liven the stage than anything Disney can throw at us. For in the end, we are what we say we are, the products of our own stories, and the tight, powerful narrative, tangled as it may be, is one hell of a dramatic web.
East Thirteenth Street Theater (136 East 13th Street)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $25.00 (Mondays | "pay-what-you-will" at the door)
Performances (through 6/2): Wednesday-Monday @ 8:00
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