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Melissa James Gibson's "THIS" at Playwrights Horizons

- Backstage with the Playwrights

By Melissa James Gibson
Directed by Daniel Aukin
Playwrights Horizons

Tim Sanford, Artistic Director
Leslie Marcus, Managing Director
William Russo, General Manager

Louis Cancelmi, Eisa Davis, Glenn Fitzgerald
Julianne Nicholson, Darren Pettie

Scenic Design by Louisa Thompson
Costume Design by Maiko Matsushima
Lighting Design by Matt Frey
Sound Design by Matt Tierney
Original Music by Peter Eldridge
Casting by Alaine Alldaffer
Director of Development, Jill Garland
Production Stage Manager, Kasey Ostopchuck
Production Manager, Christopher Boll
Press Representative, The Publicity Office

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 29, 2009

This is the one-word description of the human condition, the intellectual obsession of this play’s four central characters: Tom (Darren Pettie) and Marrell (Eisa Davis) are a young, falling-out-of-love couple, with a baby that won’t sleep; Jane (Julianne Nicholson) is the recently widowed half of Tom and Marrell’s best friends; Alan (Glenn Fitzgerald) is a very gay, very funny, very alcoholic, best friend to all, and babysitter to the offstage baby; Jean-Pierre (Louis Cancelmi) is the French doctor whose not so secret role is to seduce the restless Jane. The scene is a Manhattan apartment, which the very Manhattan audience gets used to for quite awhile, as stage lights are on and a curtain is absent. We see two baby seats, a rear piano, a steel-wooden ladder, a fake ceiling, an old refrigerator, and we immediately see a struggling couple in a crowded, cold ambiance.

Before Jane arrives, the group decides to play a “parlor game”, with Jane asking “yes” and “no” questions, about a fabricated story, then discovering the story is about Jane and Tom, a possible romance. Soon, next day, as the spotlight goes to stage right, a door emerges as Jane’s apartment, and Tom wants in. It’s unclear if their affair is already in progress or if this is a first encounter. Tom gets his wish, in frantic fervor, and nothing is ever the same for this already unsettled ensemble. And now the parlor repartee begins, in contemporary parlance, and the remainder of this intermission-less, lengthy play is an exercise in savvy discourse with socio-economic-politico-psychobabble. Very 2010, but could have been very 1930 or 1970, as the themes of existential angst, liberated libido, roving husband, economic marital stress, and a crying baby are timeworn and shopworn. I found the seamless chatter overdrawn and under-acted.

There was little affect, as bored characters engaged in boring conversation; that is, all but Alan. Alan was the one character with electric energy, and the irony was that he curled in the corner. But his drinking seemed to add flourish to his thoughts, and his wit and self-punishment were often worthy of the Woody Allen genre. Alan had another trait, added to personality and prescience; he had a photographic memory to retell everything he’s heard or seen. That memory came in handy in key dialogue, but it seemed too little too late to spark the one-dimensional action. I had hoped for Jean-Pierre to be the Deus ex Machina with a surprising dynamic, but the only dynamic worth noting was that the baby stopped crying. Melissa James Gibson’s play could be re-worked with dialogue tightening and character development. Daniel Aukin’s direction could have infused some charisma to reach the back rows. Yet, Louisa Thompson’s busy set did draw me in, with its attention to symbolic detail and authentic disorganization.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at