Thirty Seven Stones or the Man Who Was a Quarry
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
April 10, 2008
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but after watching the world premiere of Mark Charney's Thirty Seven Stones (or The Man Who Was A Quarry), I can tell you that you'd rather have stones thrown at you than pass stones through you. I can also report that the single most important thing to do before seeing the show is to use the rest room—because an audience deserves to be told this about any show that opens with a painful urination scene.
But I digress. Thirty Seven Stones is a wry and often amusing take on what would happen if all of one man's stress was carried in his kidneys and that it would all come from one source—his Jewish mother. Nathan (Steven Strobel) is torn between his stubbornly patient girlfriend Erin (the excellent Emily B. Murray) and his overprotective divorced mother (Mary Round). Edna spends the majority of the piece, which takes place in South Carolina, manipulating the characters around Nathan in order to keep him solely focused on supporting her emotionally. Whenever threatened, she ups the ante, which has him questioning his relationships with his estranged father and with Erin, and causing him over time to form 36 kidney stones.
Ably directed by Will Neuman, the production team at Working Man's Clothes has put together a very solid ensemble cast for this two-act play. Charney has written some terrific supporting roles, such as Nathan's younger brother Randy (Dane Peterson) and Edna's sister/partner-in-crime Aunt Fanny (Ellen David)—both of which are scenery-chewing roles that Preston and David carry off splendidly. Rounding out the cast are two other charmers, Bobby Moreno as the doctor/narrator and Emily Perkins as Nurse Meg and Fanny's daughter, both of whom make strong positive impressions on stage. And for the majority of the first act, Thirty Seven Stones is quite funny, with some good zingers and some emotional heft with Nathan and Edna's family drama.
But Charney's script runs out of jokes in the second act, and tries to tackle a lot more than it needs to. For example, Thirty Seven Stones spends a good deal of time setting up the idea that Nathan may actually be gay, only to pull the rug out and claim that he's not. My question is, why lead us down that path with no payoff? Also, Edna becomes increasing manipulative to the point where she's gone beyond villainous—she becomes such an emotionally ugly character that she's hard to watch. The script turns downright misogynistic with one dinner table scene where Edna, Fanny, and Fanny's daughter literally gang up on him to dissuade him from attending college, and cackle about it like the three witches from Macbeth. This two dimensional take can be funny in short bursts and/or sketches, but over the course of a two-act full-length, it does not hold up.
The one exception to this is the character of Erin, who stands up both for herself and to Nathan, who's spent most of his life kowtowing to his domineering mother's wishes. Theoretically, this is the moment that Nathan chooses Erin over Edna. But because Thirty Seven Stones spends so much time discussing Nathan's impotence and possible gay impulses, it was hard to find it plausible that he was romantically interested in Erin in the first place. The script implies that Nathan cannot get Edna out of his system, leaving me more than a little disoriented as the reasons to take this journey.
Thirty Seven Stones probably should have stuck to the type of comedy that was works so strongly in its favor during the show's first half, rather than shift into dramatic theme-tackling. The family drama takes over the piece, and to me, derails it too much from its strengths. To paraphrase, I think most folks would rather urinate themselves laughing than from crying.