The Stranger to Kindness
nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
February 23, 2012
Making its debut at the 6th annual FRIGID New York Festival, The Stranger to Kindness is a deft portrait in miniature. Largely owing its success to a compelling performance by Susan G. Bob, in just a slight 50 minutes, director Heather Cohn presents a rounded and believable portrayal of what it means to die alone.
The play opens in the hallway of a New York City walk-up building, the bare stage and harsh lighting creating the tone of loneliness that pervades the play. Susan G. Bob as Lena, a kindly but overbearing elderly lady of the kind every New Yorker knows well, sits outside her friend’s apartment trying to convince her to open the door. Lena has not heard from her longtime friend and neighbor Nance in four days, and after calling Nance’s son and the police, she anxiously wiles away the time playing cards and talking loudly to Nance through the door, filling in the absent woman’s lines in a well-worn manner that shows clearly how routine and integral their friendship is.
Soon, slightly inept police officer Greco, played aptly by Antonio Minino, comes puffing heavily up the stairs and breaks down the door to find that Nance, as the audience already suspects, has died, having collapsed on the kitchen floor some time ago. As the two characters numbly try to come to terms with Nance’s grim death, Nance’s son Paul (Mick Hilgers) arrives on the scene to find the mother he rarely speaks to has passed away all alone. Stung by the unspoken but evident blame Greco and Lena place on him, Paul launches into a tearful diatribe that reveals how their relationship was more complex than that of a dutiful old mother and a neglectful son.
The speech is marred by the exaggerated nature of Hilgers’ angry grief and happily for the effectiveness of the play, Paul immediately departs after it, leaving Lena and Greco to wait for the ambulance to take Nance’s body away. Without any heavy-handed sentiment, David Stallings’ script allows this time for Lena to build the sort of honest and heartfelt connection with Greco that people can sometimes only forge with kind strangers, and thus, come to a kind of terms with her own mortality, even if it is a fleeting one.