To name your new play The Pillow Book is a dangerous proposition. Yes, you establish a somewhat misguided resonance with Sei Shōnagon’s journal. But you also remind audiences that they might rather be drowsing, like two men in the front row during a recent performance at 59E59 Theaters.
Firework Theater presents Anna Moench’s script, which concerns young couple Deb (Julie Fitzpatrick) and John (Eric Bryant). He’s a discontented office worker who wants a baby. She’s a tightly wound attorney who doesn’t. “Pregnancy is not funny,” she says. “It’s disgusting.”
This seems to launch the play’s central subject, but the next scene suddenly shifts the action to Africa where John and guide Deborah (Vanessa Wasche) observe a termite nest. Other scenes occur in hospitals and in a ski resort. Are these alternate realities? Fantasies? Visions of the past? Of the future? Moench and director David F. Chapman never explain how these scenes and characters interrelate, nor do they make the resulting structural ambiguity especially compelling.
Metaphors—elephants, bed bugs, blood—float about like feathers escaped from a duvet, but they don’t really land. And the dialogue alternates indecisively between the naturalistic and the stylized. A few scenes are nicely observed, which suggests a lucid play lurks somewhere in the muddle. Perhaps Moench should sleep on it.