nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
June 23, 2008
All the publicity materials for Anthony Neilson's new play Stitching, including the provocative poster of a woman with stitches going from her cheek to her neck, hype up that it's an intense and relentless drama written by one of the founders of the "in-yer-face" movement. Although yes, Neilson is one of the founders of in-yer-face theatre, and yes, there's a lot of vulgar language thrown about in the show, Stitching is far from in your face or intense.
Stitching introduces us to Abby and Stu, two people who are in a long-term relationship that is undergoing problems. Abby has just found out that she is pregnant, which only exacerbates their ambivalent feelings toward one another and the relationship in general. The play then alternates between two types of scenes: scenes where Stu and Abby ask each other what they should do and where they should go, and scenes where they role-play Abby being a prostitute and Stu her john.
As they role-play, they discover some not-so-pleasant things about themselves and each other. As well as use incredibly coarse language.
All of this has the makings of an absorbing and harrowing show, but neither Neilson, director Timothy Haskell, Meital Dohan as Abby, nor Gian Murray Gianino as Stu seem to get the balance right. Somehow, the role-playing scenes (which, despite all the constant swearing and filthy sex-talk throughout them—or maybe because of it—become tedious) cancel out the realistic domestic scenes and vice versa.
There's an immediate structural problem. After each scene, which is on average 5-8 minutes, there's a 2-4 minute costume change to convey the passage of time, which adds a slight level of realism to the show, but kills any momentum. And if they're going to take the time to change the actors' clothes in between every scene, why don't they bother to move around any of the furniture or items in the apartment itself?
Also, there are some elements that are just flat-out confusing. There are numerous references to time—Abby says every time she checks the time it's either 3:33 or 5:55 or 11:11—that never seem to go anywhere. Or if they did, I completely missed it. Also, the climactic scene (hint: it's where the play gets its title) is presented in such a way that I couldn't tell if it was really happening with the character(s) or part of their role-playing.
Having stated that, there are some interesting scenes scattered throughout. Neilson, Haskell, Dohan, and Gianino all do an admirable job of portraying a long-term relationship hitting the proverbial brick wall in the scenes where Abby and Stu try to evaluate how much their lives will change with a child, and how much for the better or for worse. There's a believability in these scenes, filled with long silences, uneasy laughs, and understated exasperated sighs. Garin Marshall's excellent set and lighting add to the realism here. I also was intrigued by how the play deals with the disparity between imagined and achieved sexual fantasies (playing with the maxim, "Be Careful What You Wish For...").
Unfortunately, while watching Stitching, I couldn't help but feel that it is a pale carbon copy of another play by Neilson, the very visceral Penetrator. Ultimately, this play—and its production—seems flat.