nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
July 18, 2006
One might expect a show billed as a comedy about a woman whose impending wedding spurs a search for her birth mother, along the road encountering a lesbian stripper sister and a birth father with memory problems, to be laden with twists, turns, and huge laughs. Surgery, written by Karin Diann Williams and directed by Stuart Hynson Culpepper, turns out to be more of a drama than a comedy—though there are some great zingers. It's a pleasant experience, but it doesn't really inspire the audience to yearn for the main character to find her birth mother.
Thea (Melissa Miller) is about to marry Zed (Joe Wachowski), which sparks her need to find out more about her roots. Her adoptive parents, Ruthy (Debra Kay Anderson) and Jack (on the night I went, cast member Ian Jarvis was unavailable and the role was read by director Culpepper, who delivered a most realistic and beautiful performance), are less than thrilled about this.
Thea's birth father, Frank (David McDaniel), displays to his daughter Laney (Laura L.C. Smith) his difficulties remembering the various women of his past, due to tumor-removal surgery.
There's also an angel, Zara (Katherine Puma), and a plucky kid sister, Ripley (Kira Sternbach). Sternbach's performance deserves special mention as she makes herself watchable every moment she is onstage. One of the best things for an audience member is to feel that these people we're watching are not actors doing line delivery, but indeed the characters they say they are, fully present and responding to the person opposite them. Sternbach is a master at this. With her large eyes and natural ebullience, Sternbach is entirely believable as the bursting-with-life, mischievous Ripley, and something tells me she'd be equally convincing in whatever other role she might choose to take on.
A premise such as this has huge room for twists and shocks and misunderstandings, as well as for poignant expressions about who we really are. While there were some touching moments here, I didn't come out of it feeling a sense of what Surgery was saying, and experienced no surprises due to any shocking secrets.
The play's strength is that when the comedy comes, it's great. Examples include: "I nearly left home when I was 17. I was gone for almost 7 hours. But then the mall closed." And, when Thea and Ripley are watching a stripper: "I don't have breasts like that." "Those are not real." "They are real, they're just expensive."
So while I was never bored and felt often amused during Surgery, the plot and character motivation could be stronger in order to keep the audience more engrossed. And a final thought: the title is a bit off-putting and doesn't really tell us very much about this play.