nytheatre.com review by Jeffrey Lewonczyk
The program notes for Living London declare that the
producers wish to present "a slice of the worldview of humanity
encapsulated in the microcosm of the common life, which, of
course, is anything but common." Judging from the two plays
comprising this double bill, the above statement is actually a
cool-sounding euphemism for a familiar brand of inoffensive
August 15, 2002
Though Wrapped in Gold takes place in a squeaky suburban kitchen, and Hellmouth in a seedy urban pub, the similarities between British playwright Deborah Grimberg’s two one-acts overwhelm the differences. Both plays feature a conflict between an older, conservative sister and a younger, black-sheep sibling; both begin with chunks of mildly quirky introductory dialogue; both climax in a brief outburst between the siblings; and both resolve with a reconciliation, in which the siblings realize they’re only human, after all. Admittedly, a one-act drama is a limiting form with which to depict a "worldview of humanity," but the lack of emotional variety in the structure of these pieces makes them appear more schematic than they might have if viewed in different contexts. Though the emotional stakes of Hellmouth, in which the siblings eventually discuss a dark incident in their past, are higher than those of Wrapped in Gold, in which the tension between sisters is more a matter of routine grievances, neither piece effectively uses the minutiae of everyday living to create a compelling portrait of a world.
To be fair, much of this might be attributable to an unfortunate clash between material and venue: the performers, though all able and energetic, struggle to reconcile the material with the difficult acoustics of the Cino Theater, with uneven results. One strains to follow the major turning point of Hellmouth because the space swallows several of one actress’s important but softly spoken lines. It’s debatable, though, just how much subtlety would be required to overcome the relative middle-class safeness of the plays themselves. Little was risked, and therefore little gained. Dramatically speaking, Living London makes "the common life" look pretty common after all.