According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Friday, April 18, 2008

God's Ear

A couple struggles to keep themselves and their relationship together after their son drowns in a lake. Back from a critically-acclaimed New Georges production last year, this run uses the same strong cast, a multi-purpose stage and set, and tight direction. Although the script relies heavily on repetition and Biblical and cultural proverbs, the performance is tight from beginning to end. God's Ear is an inventive and compelling look at grief, and a must-see from the Vineyard Theatre's 25th anniversary season.

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

What happens to a family after the loss of a child? Does it buckle under the weight of the grief or do what it can to fill the void? According to Jenny Schwartz' God's Ear, a family experiences a little bit of both and something indeterminate in between to live through the pain. Everything and anything can be used as a raft during this ordeal, from infidelities to the Bible, but Schwartz suggests that perhaps they're not rafts at all. Perhaps there are no rafts to get us through tragedy. Only the willingness to fight, and time.

Passing the time means different things for Mel (Christina Kirk), Ted (Gibson Frazier), and their six-year old daughter Lanie (Monique Vukovic) after their beloved Sam drowns in a lake. For Ted, passing the time means forsaking his responsibilities as a husband and father by cheating with Lenora (Rebecca Wisocky), the woman that represents all of his affairs, trying to exhume the single life by hanging out at sports bars, and not coming home. Mel tries to keep her head above water by battling fatigue, guilt over her culpability in her son's death, and doubt about her parenting skills and her ability to be a wife. Lanie's stuck in the middle, too young to fully understand death and its aftermath, but provides solace for her hurting parents in the midst of her dreams to become Helen Keller. After witnessing the dysfunction in her parents' interactions, she without a doubt learns a new way of communication, but remains unmarred by their lessons.

Luckily, the family's dysfunction does not extend into the production. The lighting design by Tyler Micoleau works hand-in-hand with Kris Stone's set design to create the blue lake and the theoretical drowning that each character undergoes. The compartmentalized set is multi-functional and almost fluid, with new characters appearing to float in from below, and props disappearing when they're not in use. Anne Kauffman turns the delivery of Schwartz' stream of consciousness, cyclical dialogue into a highly stylized, breathless sport, rendering the characters every bit as soulless as their grief makes them become. Biblical scriptures and cultural sayings become interchangeable, meaningful and meaningless at the same instant, neither informing nor harming the path to healing.

The road to this family's redemption may not be smooth, but it has its funny moments. Before you can ponder the action figures strewn on the floor, a touching reminder of what once was, GI Joe (Matthew Montelongo), representing a life-size action figure, bursts onto the scene. As GI Joe, Montelongo haunts Mel's home life while his transvestite flight attendant character haunts Ted's business life. The slow-trotting Tooth Fairy (Judith Greentree), coming in with malaise and a charming song, is amusing in the beginning, but is a sitting duck onstage with sparse dialogue and very little bearing on the plot. Although the plot details are well-orchestrated and inventive in general, some of them are extraneous. There are instances where the characters go on tangents that don't always work, exemplifying Schwartz' facility for wordplay and imagination more than story advancement.

Still, the abundance of creativity makes for excellent entertainment. The cast, all reprising their roles from last year except for Rebecca Wisocky, fall back into their characters with vigor and aplomb. Wisocky is fiery and a nice addition to the show. With reality linking arms with the fantastic and songs intertwining with sobs, it's hard to feel sorry for Mel, Ted, and Lanie; the production isn't geared towards sympathy. Yet, while the characters seek God and rage against him at the same time, empathy for their ordeal may not be a stretch. God's Ear's is a potent drama about picking up things that aren't always magnified, and learning how to listen when all you want to do is scream. Don't miss this artful, well-conceived and well-executed production.
Through May 18th. Tickets: $55.
Vineyard Theatre: 108 East 15th Street,New York City, NY 10003 (between 4th Ave & Irving Place)

No comments: