A Rule of Nines
nytheatre.com review by Edward Elefterion
August 16, 2009
A Rule of Nines opens with a monologue about toilets, and what goes in them. (I'll restrain myself.) Soon thereafter, there's a monologue about how men should do their own laundry. A melancholy song takes place along the way, as well as more than a fair share of misogyny, and we end with a monologue about jazz and the definition of American music. What these elements have to do with each other is a mystery to me, as is the title (even though it is explained in the program), as is the story and the point of the play/production.
Ellie is pregnant; Reggie has some issues with the idea of her being a good mother. Gerald is an easy-going guy who married the mean-spirited, obnoxious, loud, and overbearing Wanda (who I was just praying he'd knock off so that her shrieking would finally come to an end). There is, in fact, an offstage murder (maybe two...yes, I'm pretty sure that there are two but maybe just one and the other is only a wish). Something bloody is referenced in the offstage washing machine. I think it's supposed to be the baby, but we never find out. Nor do we learn what happens to Reggie after Gerald shoots him in Scene Two. Gerald mock-hangs himself (who could blame him with Wanda harping on and on) but there's no real suspense to it since we know that the drape he's tying around his neck comes down with the slightest tug. There's some really lovely piano music before and after the show. And that pretty much sums it up. I have no idea what happened and I am truly sorry to say that I don't care.
Amie Lytie, Anthony Fanqui, William Winner, and Kaitlyn McGuire make up the cast and all meet the challenge of inhabiting characters that lack dimension. Their earnestness and commitment go a long way. Not far enough to make any sense of the play, however. Director Christopher Triebel keeps things moving along but doesn't seem to have an opinion about the material. There are many moments that seem comedic but aren't played as such, like when Reggie has a late-night snack of crackers and peanut butter in the middle of an argument. Crackers and peanut butter are not exactly an ideal food choice for an actor on stage, and I would think that such a specific choice was made for the inherent theatrical potential, but it looked more like an obstacle for the actor than anything else, and it took the focus away from the center of the scene.
There were no press materials (which I would normally turn to for guidance in such a situation) but there was a thank-you to the cast, from playwright Brian Kirchner, in the program: "for making my absurdist dream a reality." Maybe the play is modeled on the absurdist theatre movement of the 1950s and '60s? But Absurdism usually reflects the inherent meaninglessness of life through hyperbolic theatricality that runs the gamut from vaudevillian-style dialogue, song, repetition, clever wordplay, and hyper-realistic acting. Absurdism mixes in a sense of hopelessness with the comedic futility of being alive. A Rule of Nines is far too naturalistically scripted and acted and the overall effect is simply of a play with an underwritten plot and overwritten characters.