Why D'Ya Make Me Wear That, Joe?
nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
July 18, 2006
I could not experience viscerally, or even remotely, the love affair that is at the center of Vanda's play, Why D'Ya Make Me Wear This, Joe? How could I when the star-crossed lovers are rendered more as cold outlines of a single personality trait rather than multi-dimensional, warm-blooded persons? There are some laudable performances by supporting actors, and Vanda deftly plots the clear narrative. But it was difficult for me to believe that two static personas could forge a fiery and risky love affair. Perhaps Vanda's verbosity did not allow the actors to develop whole beings. These lovers are never silent on stage. Characters can be born in silence, as can love.
The play begins with Charlie, an old woman standing in her apartment. She is remembering an affair she had during the Second World War. Her memory begins to come to life on stage. Her younger self appears with her then boyfriend, Joe, who was serving in the Navy. They've come to have dinner with Joe's affluent lieutenant who lives in Manhattan. Wayne Asbury plays the lieutenant, named Philip. His performance is absorbing, and hauntingly evolves. Philip lives with his girlfriend, Aubra. When Charlie meets Aubra sparks fly: that is what we are told later in the play, but what I saw would hardly be called static cling.
When the men are shipped abroad, Charlie moves in with Aubra, and Aubra immediately begins to seduce her. Frankly, in their first romantic encounters, the dialogue is creepy. Amanda Weeden tries to make Aubra sexy and droll but unfortunately her language sounds no more tantalizing than the requisite dialogue that preludes a sex scene in a pornographic movie. But worse is when the women finally kiss and touch—worse because their physical intimacy—their chemistry—appeared less authentic than even in a pornographic movie. I felt for the director, Melissa Attebery. A director is not a chemist. If the chemicals won't bond, the only remedy is recasting—not a viable option for an indie theatre festival showing.
Thankfully throughout the entire play the older Charlie, played by Eileen Lacy, remains on stage—sometimes simply watching, and other times interacting metaphysically with her reliving memories. At times she yells at her past-self hoping to change her course. But it cannot be changed; it will forever end with her looking back as an old woman regretting. The director gracefully executes the interactions between past and present.
Lacy is a magically subtle actor who with fealty possesses her part. Heart-wrenching are her weighty silences and palpable are her manifestations of regret. She is who begins this play and, whatever the play's faults, never lets us go. Because of her I watched and listened until the end, and when it ended, I was moved.
Though Vanda's writing is often pat and her story predictable, she forces us to ask a difficult question of life: what choices are we making now that will haunt us with regret in the future?