nytheatre.com review by Emily Otto
February 27, 2008
Two-thirds of the way through Diversey Harbor, a character pointedly asks the audience, "If I don't remember parts of my life, is it the same as if it never happened?" The question is, of course, rhetorical, but also a recurring theme in search of an answer in Marisa Wegrzyn's fascinating play exploring intertwining stories in the lives of several Chicagoan twentysomethings. The play is presented in five monologues by four characters: James (Avery Pearson), a perpetually stoned dog walker; Dennis (Dorien Makhloghi), a hard-partying student hung up on his ex-girlfriend; Grace (Dana Berger), a depressive fledgling street performer; and Stephanie (Amanda Sayle), a struggling bartender. Each character's story intersects with the same incident: the mugging and subsequent disappearance of a young woman in Chicago.
Wegrzyn's language is tart, self-aware, and brutally funny, with a surprising depth of melancholy underneath the sarcasm. All four actors work effectively with the fast and furious colloquialisms of their monologues. Unfortunately, the production suffers from Annie Coburn's heavy-handed and overly literal direction. When characters recount past conversations in the midst of their monologues, the actors actually attempt to speak in character voices for the other person, shifting body position and eye focus back and forth, resulting in a caricatured effect that robs the storytelling of its power. The characters also frequently execute the action they're describing, which, while bringing some physical life to a monologue play, is too obvious to offer any added depth to the production. The lighting cues predictably telegraph upcoming changes in emotional tone, and a few bizarre (and poorly executed) sound cues feel like they belong in a different play entirely. With a subtler touch, this play could be very compelling; right now, the sharp material and solid performances just barely manage to transcend the clumsy production.
The evident intelligence of Diversey Harbor's script, however, makes this play worthy of attention. Wegrzyn, a Chicago-based playwright, is 26, and while her language traffics in the booze-and-drug-fueled, Internet-addicted aimlessness of young urbanites, she's captured the loneliness and longing for connection that lurks behind their defiant swagger. These characters are so caught up in the minutiae of their lives that they don't remember how they got to the point of desperation. As they watch a woman disappear, they struggle to be sure that they still exist in a city that threatens to swallow them. The effect is one of sadness without sentimentality. Wegrzyn is a playwright to watch; I look forward to seeing more of her work in New York.