The Umbrella Plays
nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
March 31, 2011
A FringeNYC award winner, The Umbrella Plays is a series of six “snapshot” plays about youngish urbanites navigating life and love on a rainy New York day. Featuring a likeable cast and a script with moments of real charm, this play is hip and hopeful but sometimes feels like a flirtation going nowhere. In one of the vignettes, a character quoting Yeats exclaims “Surely some revelation is at hand.” That epiphany never comes in this piece but there is enough potential in the crafting and cleverness in the production to render it a fairly winsome hour of independent theater.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “Crimson and Clover” blares fittingly over the stage (“Ah, now I don’t hardly know her / But I think I could love her”) just before the introduction of the light-hearted “Lost,” a sketch about a couple who meet and share an umbrella and a moment of romance in the downpour. The next sketch, “Bruno,” featuring a believable performance by Chris Stack, is about the end of a relationship rather than its bright-eyed start. The next, “You & My Umbrella,” is about a couple whose romance has also ended but whose feelings for each other clearly haven’t. In all three pieces, Stephanie Janssen, playwright and actress here, presents deft, rapid-fire dialogue that is entertaining but only strikes deep chords in a few rare moments.
The production takes a turn with “Nice for a Funeral” and “The Bridge,” featuring Natalie Gold and Jan Leslie Harding, whose characters seem to have more depth and nuance. The latter actress gives the best performance in the production as a woman about to commit suicide, blending humor and pathos. The last, “Umbrella Sketch #6,” featuring Stack, Harding, and Janssen, puts a well-suited cap on the production as the three characters argue over the meaning of an art installation of an umbrella. Their conversation is a tongue-in-cheek, self-conscious reflection on the play itself, and makes up for in good-natured humor what the play sometimes lacks in weight and meaning.
Director Daniel Talbott has worked with set designer Eugenia Furneaux-Arends and stage manager Hannah Woodward to create a well-orchestrated production. The connections between the sketches are thin in the script but the transitions between them on the clever stage are fluid and very well-handled. Buckets of water line the corners of the set and the actors gamely overturn them over their heads to suggest rain. It’s a fun theatrical device that embodies the plucky spirit of the play, wherein lies its strength.