Hell’s Kitchen, and Duras’s Hotel
Once the lovers hurt each other—and themselves. After time, they meet again. What went wrong? Is it really over after all? Take this situation and multiply by two. Tennessee Williams’s Talk to me like the rain and let me listen . . . and Marguerite Duras’s La Musica (Connelly Theater) must have seemed a natural pairing to director Caroline Nastro. And part of the appeal may have been the chance to use starkly contrasting techniques to explore similar psychological terrain.
For Williams’s wisp of a playlet, Nastros creates a mood poem with evocative video imagery, music, and sound effects. As the lovers reunite in a dismal room off Eighth Avenue, the rain drips through the roof into a metal tub. The man slouches in a bed behind a mosquito net, cataloging his benders with a bemused tone; then, in a counterpoint monologue, the woman spins an escapist fantasy of growing old by the sea. While they speak, idyllic soft-focus scenes of them on a beach, or dancing, play on the bed’s curtain; waves whisper and dreamy music lulls. These feel familiar—pictures and sounds Nastro used effectively in staging Samuel Beckett’s Embers a couple of seasons ago. But what is their function here? Did the couple once live near the ocean? And why does mosquito netting hang in a Hell’s Kitchen tenement? Although Nikki Weavers’s sensuous videography and José Halac’s lyre-like music are alluring, they don’t seem to belong—except, perhaps, as an expression of the woman’s reverie. Diana Ruppe’s depressive wraith does project an otherworldly innocence that’s winning, but John Sharp’s dissolute lost soul seems neither desperate, drunk, nor hung over, though he does mumble.
With Duras’s more substantial one-act, Nastro elects a bare-bones staging that puts the play’s burden squarely on the actors. Michel and Anne Marie—whose divorce will soon be final—meet, after two years, in the deserted dining room of a hotel where they once lived. Awkward conversation about their furniture relaxes into an ironic laugh over their last hellish days together. Painful questions follow: Who was unfaithful? How did it feel? Passions simmer beneath the surface. Will they end the night in bed?
Aside from the occasional toll of bells to mark the passing hours, they converse against a heavy silence, where their steps and fumbling movements echo and their pauses stretch out. Mercedes Herrero’s melancholy history and hard-won composure radiate from her taut, brittle posture. But Sharp, as the bewildered, still-smarting husband, lacks conviction, so their chemistry falters. Pairing these trifles by major writers—the first overheated, the second contrived—achieves little synchronicity. Like the lovers in the stories, they can’t make it alone . . . and they can’t make it together. —Francine Russo
Love! Pallor! Depression!
If the title of Jay DiPietro’s stressful relationship play Peter and Vandy (Paradise Theatre) brings to mind Lost Boys and Tinkerbells, it may be that it has a few things in common with Peter Pan. This Peter is also a boy who won’t grow up. Vandy is the girl he teaches to fly, or just flee. In a series of economically written, nonlinear scenes, we observe them meeting in college, living together, breaking up, and meeting randomly afterward.
They aren’t a fun couple. In real life, you’d stop inviting them over, but onstage they’re a Bergman-esque vicarious thrill. From their Ikea furniture to their emotional landscape, Scandinavia keeps coming to mind. Kendell Pigg’s no-budget set, in a loft-like space with exposed bricks, floor lamps instead of a light grid, and only two rows of chairs, intensifies the realism beautifully. Doing double duty as Peter and director, DiPietro matches the set’s understatement, giving the play an almost embarrassing intimacy.
Vandy, petulantly etched by Monique Vukovic, is withholding, brittle, and humorless. Peter is painfully inarticulate, possibly one of those borderline autistics who do so well at computer programming. When he’s not glib. “What do you want to do?” Vandy asks him while they tussle playfully. “Stuff,” he says. “Uh, not the verb.”
DiPietro gives us a pinhole view of their involvement, focused on the tension. Peter and Vandy’s attempts to keep their interactions mundane are constantly foiled by their neediness and rage. Sometimes DiPietro does banality too well. A scene in which the two, watching television, try to decide what to order for dinner grows unbearable for the same reason such arguments do in real life, as the two flip-flop uncomfortably between satisfying their own needs and pandering to the other’s. Their most vicious argument erupts over the proper way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. How could they have endured years of this dynamic? Is the sex that good? Something keeps them coupled, but what?
DiPietro’s Pinterish silences don’t provide the slightest hint at what that might be, nor does Peter’s breakup accusation—”You are trying to kill me”—sound like more than a muddled exaggeration. At first this seems a failure of the playwright’s imagination. Like a lot of Neil LaBute’s work, DiPietro’s writing wants just a couple more specific details, keystrokes of personal history to render his characters more three-dimensional. But over time, leaving the mystery of relationships for the audience to ponder feels less like a cop-out than a way of saying we’re all lost in our own Never-Never Lands. —James Hannaham