nytheatre.com review by David Vining
October 28, 2009
Victor L. Kahn's new play Embraceable Me is an affable "He said – She said." It is a charming, smart two-hander and is ably, if a bit conservatively, directed by Eric Parness.
Embraceable Me is a dramedy in the truest sense. The plot is simultaneously too light to be dramatic and not heightened enough to create a true comedy. There's a simplicity to the narrative, but it is so simple that it almost isn't there. The main strength of the production is that it feels real. This saves it from being trite. Much of this is due to the appealing performances of its two principals.
The "He said – She said" device is used liberally and literally from the opening through to the final blackout. Both characters speak directly to the audience from stools downstage and in the middle of scenes. This is pulled off with an ease that shows the chops of both cast and director.
The story is a familiar one. Two friends/on-again-off-again lovers try to explain what keeps them together and what keeps them apart. They are drawn to each other, but their lives get in the way. Love isn't simple, and even if it were, they certainly are not. The characterizations are by far the strongest element of the play, and there are many small moments that add a great deal of texture to this relationship.
Keira Naughton gives a nuanced performance as the driven, talented, and misguided Allison. Scott Barrow is the perfect combination of pompous and insecure, supportive and unavailable as scholarly recluse Edward. They have a complex chemistry that sells the history that these two characters share.
The production is also helped a lot by its deceptively simple set that uses angles to create a wealth of playing areas for the play's interconnected scenes. It marries realistic furnishings with an expressionistic backdrop in a way that enables it to stand in for many places while maintaining its specificity. One of the only wrong notes in the production is a sound design that is so sparse as to be distractingly noticeable when it does timidly poke its head out.
Ultimately this play would be fantastic, except that not enough happens to really demand your attention. Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, etc, etc. And the asides are merely an outlet for more witty banter rather than a way into any deeper meaning. It is enjoyable and imminently watchable, but not compelling. Embraceable Me just doesn't seem to have all that much to say.
Which leaves this play caught in limbo. Anyone looking for a meaty cathartic evening, or a thigh-slapping good time, look elsewhere, for this is neither one. If a witty, bittersweet, intellectual, character study is what you crave, Embraceable Me is a well rounded diversion.