That Which Isn’t, Matthew Freeman’s graceful psychodrama, seems at first to be a sweet summer tale. It starts hazily, and lazily: A couple sits under a tree, talking all night about their dissolving marriage. Helen (crisp Moira Stone) and Jim (charming David DelGrosso) are sad and affectionate; they say things that give each other (and us) hope. But there’s a difference, Helen notes, between what lovers mean and what they say. Freeman — writing with clear-eyed cynicism — sees something existentially bleak in that gap.
Freeman here uses a “blinking” dramaturgy, so scenes are sliced into beats, separated by darkness. In each segment, Jim and Helen refer elliptically to their long history. After every exchange is a blackout; when the lights come up, events have jumped forward a few minutes. It’s a risky technique, since in the first act Freeman doesn’t sufficiently vary the segments’ lengths, which can make the piece seem overlong. In the wrenching second half, though, Helen meets Jim’s friend Marcus (Mick O’Brien), and the play — already a clever anatomy of emotional absence — turns scalpel-sharp. Freeman’s longtime collaborator Kyle Ancowitz directs a production that hits all its marks, and Stone, playing beautifully against both partners, delivers a dense, prickly performance. It’s a savvy bit of programming in the middle of a heat wave. A day later, I still feel its melancholy chill.
That Which Isn’t
Directed by Kyle Ancowitz
579 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
Through August 20