Dancing in the Dark
nytheatre.com review by Joshua Chase Gold
November 20, 2008
Theater for the New City's production of Dancing in the Dark depicts the journey of one man's search to find his birth parents. Robert Kornfeld's play centers on the lives of Jase and Lyria McBain, played by Michael Gnat and Susan Izatt respectively. As the couple begins talks of having a child, Jase is stricken by an all-consuming need to know who his real parents are. As the play unfolds it becomes clear that Jase's search, made difficult by laws set forth by adoption agencies, is not a desire. It is a need.
Although the topics addressed in Kornfeld's play are both relevant and meaningful, I felt that the production lacked making any kind of statement when all was said and done. It is clear that Kornfeld has a deep connection to the material, but I found that the script couldn't decide what it wanted to be. Through a combination of ultra-realism, characters addressing the audience, characters remarking to the audience that they are aware they're in a play, and a series of strange dream sequences, the trials and tribulations of Jase and Lyria are told. Any of these devices, used in an appropriate manner, can be very effective. However, the combination of all of these tactics comes across as confusing and unnecessary.
One of the biggest problems in this production is the space and set. Although there is not much attention to detail (beyond the five-foot hanging Mardi Gras masks, which I still don't understand), Mark Marcante's design has different locations spaced throughout the theatre which, it seemed, would help the show flow seamlessly. This was not the case. Each time the lights went down, the show was halted for at least two minutes while the actors changed costumes and a stagehand meticulously re-made the onstage bed.
Another problematic aspect of director Tom Thornton's production is the lack of any kind of immediacy. The search for birth parents, one would assume, is taxing and all-consuming. But I never felt the fire that should have been coarsing through Jase's bones on this self-proclaimed necessary mission. Gnat's character spends nearly the entire show talking about how important it is that he finds his real parents. But when he finally accomplishes his goal there is no relief. The lack of a build-up of any real emotion forced what should have been the most important moment in the play to collapse.
The idea behind Dancing in the Dark is an excellent one, but in its current state it is not potent or well-executed.