Romantic cohabitation is just another term for slow-boil madness in these two plays currently in repertory at the Babel Theatre Project. Jessica Brickman’s The Insomnia Play takes place over one long night as a sleepless woman lashes out repeatedly at her boyfriend. In Emily Young’s The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie, a hell-on-heels con artist moves in with her former partner, who’s gone straight and is less than happy to see her again. Both plays delve deeply into the chaotic worlds of their troubled couples. Unfortunately, the results lean less toward inspired insanity and more in the direction of adolescent incoherence.
The more successful (or perhaps less annoying) of the two dramas, The Insomnia Play begins with a young woman named Georgina (Julie Lake) writhing in bed. From time to time, she rouses her live-in beau (Ben Vershbow) from his deep sleep and tries fruitlessly to engage him in all sorts of ridiculous arguments. In between, she hallucinates various visitors to her studio apartment, including a lewd salesman, a sheep, and the chain-smoking ghost of her dead mother. Georgina’s crescendoing lunacy threatens to drive her patient boyfriend out the door. The poor viewer might experience a similar sense of repulsion. What little dramatic relief there is comes from the commendable cast. As Georgina, Lake grows convincingly wraithlike and bitchy as the play progresses. Even better is Vershbow, who balances his character between the boyish romantic he still is and the henpecked schlub he’s destined to become.
Fine acting also mitigates the messy misfire that is The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie. In the middle of a rainstorm, British shyster Kat Kat (the talented Miriam Silverman) descends on the New York apartment of her erstwhile partner-lover Willie (Jeremy Bobb), who has renounced crime and wants nothing to do with her. Young’s play has the sleazy allure of a Jim Thompson potboiler, but none of the tragic nuance or tight plotting. Instead, we get lovers’ quarrels, perfunctory makeup sex, and bizarre lessons about expat assimilation. As the chaotic Kat Kat, Silverman delivers an impressively physical performance. Watching her viciously trash her ex’s apartment is to behold a force of nature. It also offers a taste of how nastily unhinged the rest of the play might have been.