Lay Down and Love Me Again
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
September 5, 2006
Clown is not just noses and ha-ha. In his concise one man piece, Lay Me Down and Love Me Again, James Howell gets very dark with the work and explores a variety of perverse ideas.
As the main character, Kevin, he emerges pajama-clad and quickly establishes a slightly staccato rhythm for the first part of the piece, dancing and playing with a phrase. He then introduces the four characters in Kevin's life and death that make up the work. These folks include the preacher who eulogizes at Kevin's funeral, bemoaning the "bargain basement Babylon" in which we live; Kevin's mother, as she shops abortion clinics while musing on gynecological encounters; his professor, twice chosen to deliver the Dostoevsky lecture and beamingly welcoming the audience of "high functioning alcoholics"; and Kevin's father, who we meet in the ICU, with Kevin, when the father is dying. Thoroughly alone at the end, he tries for a connection via the operator, asking to be connected to "someone with more than good intentions between his legs" and then is driven to a fairly strange attempt at audience connection.
All of the characters have sharp phrasing and moments of clarity within what the program describes as "Kevin's mind is wandering." That is a very difficult place to position oneself, within a "wandering," and it was a relief that much of the time I knew where he was with the characters. The slightly off-putting rhythm eases as the show gets going and when Howell stops deliberately, breaking the flow of his speech, more of his charm and the strength of his writing comes through. It almost feels at the very start as if he is holding the pulse of the work artificially slow and that the show wants to go at a higher rate than he allows it to. As that "held" quality lessens, the work's real and interesting quirks gain the space they deserve.
The moments in the ICU work particularly well, catching the way detachment and hyper-anxiety can exist in that horrible place. It feels as if there is even more material to mine in that sequence and it has the strongest narrative thread. However, more difficult to appreciate is the character of Kevin's mother. The characterization is a bit hazy and I suspect the character won't work for many women, for much the same reason that the film Dr. T and the Women annoys me endlessly—men really shouldn't riff on gynecological exams. Just take my word for it, there is nothing remotely erotic about them; they're as arousing as a prostate exam.
Lay Me Down and Love Me Again is a dark work, it goes interesting places and gains as it goes along. Though there is a very black humor in it, this show will give you quite a different understanding of what Clown can involve.