The Most Beautiful Lullaby You've Ever Heard
nytheatre.com review by Larry Kunofsky
May 24, 2007
It's a great title, isn't it? The Most Beautiful Lullaby You've Ever Heard. It's makes you go ahhhh, just a little bit, inside your head. The title made me want to see the play. Can a play be as beautiful as a lullaby? I never thought of that before. I'd settle for the ninth most beautiful lullaby I ever heard, so sign me up.
Someone I know saw a reading of the play and he urged me to check it out. It's just your thing, my friend told me. It all takes place in chairs and it's all very poetic and imaginative. So I couldn't wait.
The Most Beautiful Lullaby You've Ever Heard is, indeed, beautiful (at least in parts); it does have a spare, intense quality that I admire; and it is often poetic and often extremely imaginative. I'm not sure how it's a lullaby, though. And I'm not entirely convinced that it's a play.
This particular play-as-lullaby or lullaby-as-play concerns three characters—The Man, The Woman, and The Narrator, played by John Conor Brooke, Lucy Walters, and Dianna Marino, respectively. All three of them sit in chairs facing out to the audience, with The Narrator in between The Man and The Woman for the whole evening. All three of them, at intervals, take long, deep breaths together, and start a new scene. Each scene is an argument, a confrontation, a flirtation, or a consummation of love of one kind or another between The Man and The Woman. Some actions are conveyed through a kind of pantomime, and some actions are narrated to us by The Narrator. And that's pretty much it.
I'm probably not doing a very good job of depicting the nature or purpose of this play, but I simply don't know what the nature or purpose of the play is. This play reminds me a little bit of Daniel McIvor's play Never Swim Alone, in which two men who were best friends in childhood argue and compete over everything as a mysterious girl in a swimsuit presides over their battles with a whistle, as if she were some otherworldly referee. In that play, the action of swimming, the notion of competition, and the sensation of feeling deeply for another person all become metaphors that physicalize the play in a real-but-not-real universe. The Most Beautiful Lullaby You've Ever Heard is tapping into that same vein, but the larger purpose is hard to discern, and it all seems more not-real than real, or even believable.
Each scene is witty and often titillating (The Man and The Woman joke about porn a lot), and there are some intriguing issues that come up (The Man and The Woman are both survivors of painful childhoods who each need to feel and inflict pain during intimacy) but very rarely does one scene build on the momentum of the last.
My friend was right—at least instinctually—in recommending this play to me, in that I love when a play with minimal sets and spare dialogue helps amplify the meaning behind every word and every object (such as a chair) until each of those words and objects seems like a whole world unto itself, but in order for the meaning to be made larger, some kernel of meaning needs to be made clear to begin with.
There is a great deal in The Most Beautiful Lullaby You've Ever Heard that seems almost willfully obscure to me. Why are these characters sitting here this way? Who is The Narrator and what connection does she have to this couple? Why does the play begin with The Narrator pouring sand from a bottle in a circle around the chairs? What's with all the heavy breathing? It just seems like an hour of bits of dialogue that begins with a ritual punctuated by long, deep breaths.
As confused as I was by these proceedings, I was greatly impressed by City Attic Theatre's production. Brooke and Walters have great chemistry together. Although they are playing characters named The Man and The Woman, these actors put meat on the bones of their roles, conveying the feelings of fear, vulnerability, rage, passion, and desire. They are both actors of intensity and charm who can transform from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other in mere moments. Marino, in the subtlest role as The Narrator, is the dark horse in the cast. Her steady performance is the backbone of the play. The elegant direction by Andrew J. Merkel creates room for the play to breathe within the pace and tone that he sets within the production. I was even impressed by the lighting (of which I'm rarely consciously aware while watching a play) by Joshua Rose, which helps make the mood shifts of the play seem distinct and sharp. Playwright Greg Romero undoubtedly has a way with words. He can build strong rhythms within the dialogue that create an almost trance-like sensation (perhaps this is where the lullaby analogy is supposed to come in). And his lines are genuinely funny. But, as I hate to keep bringing up, nothing really happens here.
A couple flirt and argue. A narrator narrates. At the end, The Man and The Woman start to dance. And that's it. The audience had to be cued to applaud, since there was no other indication that the play was over. Maybe this was another aspect of the play's lullaby-like qualities—perhaps this particular play isn't supposed to mean something so much as entrance us. And I guess it does just that. I wonder if that's enough, though. As a lullaby, this play entranced me without ever lulling me to sleep, thankfully, but as a play, it never kept me on the edge of my seat, not even once, alas.