A Thousand Variations of a Lie Told Once
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
July 19, 2008
This play by Stacey Lane takes place one recent Christmas Eve in the Midwest, in the living room of Abby (Linda S. Nelson), a widow in her mid-50s, recently engaged to Patrick (William Laney), who is in his late 40s. Abby is expecting a visit from her three grown daughters from her first marriage, Whitney (Laura Siner), Rena (Dianna Martin) and Anna (Jane Cortney). She wants them to meet her groom-to-be, but the children think that another event is in store. Evidently, when Abby's first husband was on his deathbed, he promised his oldest girl that he would write each of his daughters a letter before he passed, but the letters were never found. 20 years later, the three daughters harbor the notion that Mom has kept the letters from them, denying their existence. No reasonable explanation is ever given as to why the offspring think that Abby would do this, or why they now think that all of a sudden Mom is having a change of heart and giving them their letters.
When the three ladies arrive at their mother's home the two oldest instantly began to brutally attack her fiancé with vicious verbal jabs that do not let up for most of the piece. They make sarcastic reference to Abby and Patrick's age difference, which at a mere eight years seems laughably inconsequential for a play set in this century. The youngest daughter, Anna, seems to be the only person willing to accept the fact that the letters may never have existed and continually tries to be the diplomat of the situation. Unfortunately, these characters are written in a way that makes it very hard to sympathize with them. Whitney and Rena are such shrews that even when they have an occasional awkward human moment, you just don't buy it. Patrick, the fiancé, is a gentle soul, but after a while he just seems a weary sap with no backbone. When Abby drives him into a situation that she could have easily solved herself the same way these last 20 years, it is hard to empathize. The ending is sad and confusing, but by that time, you really don't care what happens to these people.
Director Brad Fryman does a nice job of staging the action in a very awkward tight performing space [the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre], and all of the actors do their best with the material given. The lighting design by Katharine Lowery and sound design by Mickey Zetts are well executed. There is no credit given for the simple set and costume design.