Two Sizes Too Small
nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
August 13, 2010
Jessica Kane has done something marvelous. Inside her briskly paced, robust comedy she weaves a provocative meditation on the nature of freedom. From her absurdist plotting emerges an insightful metaphor of an individual resisting a pre-programmed way of life. Comparisons can surely be made to Ionesco's work, but Kane writes and directs with a post-millennial optimism that is all her own.
The premise of Two Sizes Too Small is simple: Paul, a young, successful stockbroker, wakes up one morning to find that all of his shoes have shrunk. Panicked and unable to leave his apartment he reluctantly tells his intrusive and badgering mother. She rushes to his apartment with a pair of size 16 shoes in hand. The shoes don't fit. She assures him she'll solve the problem and get things back to normal. After several more failed attempts to squeeze him into shoes, she calls for a doctor (who may just play one on TV) to diagnose Paul. But as the play progresses his problem gets bigger than shoes.
The tremendous Eric Purcell, playing the doctor, summons (with tongue securely in cheek) the affected, self-important tone of any given doctor from a 1970s soap opera. It's refreshingly kooky. He has some of the most surreal lines of the play, and gives each one an unnervingly funny gravitas.
Kane has staged the production as a radio play, but gleefully and effectively abandons strict rules for such a staging. The actors directly address each other from behind four reading stands. Sometimes they mime their actions; sometimes they physically interact. In lesser hands these moments could have muddied the atmosphere of a radio play; instead they adorn it. Michael Douglas narrates beautifully; his mellifluous reading enhances the interplay of the characters and never distracts.
Performances are stylized in the vein of a Charles Ludlum send-up of a classic B-movie. Lorraine Serabian playing the mother and Minna Taylor playing Marylin (Paul's girlfriend) commit to the camp with heart and soul and a wink. Taylor is an exciting actor to behold. She delivers Kane's smart, offbeat language with precision and fervor. And as she makes us laugh she simultaneously conveys her sincere romance with Paul.
Serabian creates a fabulous car-wreck of a mother, and though she's given some jokes that don't land, you can't take your eyes off her. When she dares to take off her beloved heels in a show of camaraderie with her barefoot son, she devolves into a savage humanoid, snarling and grunting. It's one of the many charmingly demented moments that serve as a biting critique of the small ways we are unconsciously restrained.
John Wernke as Paul plays his part generously, allowing us to be with him in the midst of his crisis of identity. Kane smartly pulls him back from the camp. He is the anchor for the audience, allowing us the space between the laughter to absorb the philosophical notions at the heart of the story.
When the play ended, and I left the theatre with my companion, I was surprised by the discussion we were having. After all the laughter the play brought us, we weren't talking about the humor. Instead we were debating the notion of freedom, whether it is simply a hard-wired emotion akin to happiness, or if it is a rational state of mind that comes by choice. Not since last year's Broadway production of Exit the King have I laughed throughout a play, and then found myself engaged in heated dialectic. I think that is the strongest compliment I can give to Kane's work. And it well deserves it.