There's The Story
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 8, 2005
There's the Story is about a composer named Henry who is suffering from a severe case of writer's block. One of the best things about it, in fact, is the awesomely vivid way that actor/writer Timothy McCracken and director Christopher Grabowski convey the frustration—nay, anxiety—nay, AGONY—of this suffering man. In short, sharp blackouts that only last a few seconds apiece we see him struggle with demons he can neither control nor name: playing the piano or with his hands poised just above it or, seated on the couch a few feet away, fingering the air in search of the elusive note that will at long last push his composition forward. Or tracing an endless line across the closed keyboard cover; or bracing himself against the instrument that has somehow turned into his mortal enemy; or, finally, sinking his head into his hands in a gesture of utter and tragic defeat.
No question about it: Henry's in trouble, and we're hooked. The rest of There's the Story—for most of the above happens during its first few moments—traces his search for a cure, which of course requires a search for a root cause. The journey is crackling good drama, blending a nearly noirish sensibility—lots of foreshadowing and surprises and hinted-at intrigue and secrets—with a keen sense of character. Henry's companions on this trip are his roommate Curtis, another composer who is practically his direct opposite, and Alexandra, a young woman who Curtis brings home following a promising first date and who turns out to possess some of the keys that will unlock Henry's creativity. They're both terrifically well-written and acted. Sean Dougherty makes Curtis enormously likable in spite of a host of traits that, if not objectively awful, clearly annoy the heck out of Henry. And Tara Falk finds both the mysterious romantic and the pragmatic caregiver inside Alexandra, and not incidentally achieves potent chemistry with each of her leading men. McCracken's a walking wound as Henry; we root for him helplessly, waiting for him to figure out whatever it is he needs to figure out so that he can resume his life.
If the resolution that McCracken the playwright has provided for this tantalizing puzzle is a little less satisfyingly complicated and jolting that we might wish, well, it doesn't ultimately make the ride that much less enjoyable. There's the Story is McCracken's first play and it's remarkably assured and well-crafted, filled with all kinds of nifty details that make it eminently performable and instantly compelling.
Grabowski's staging is taut and smart throughout, ensuring an atmosphere that keeps the audience leaning forward in their seats until the final revelations at the play's climax. His work is abetted by a wonderfully lived-in set by Paul O'Connor and equally lived-in costumes by Camille Assaf; both of them have focused on a green/earth-color motif to define Henry's blocked aura that I didn't completely understand but nevertheless noted and appreciated. Marcus Doshi's lighting and Daniel Baker's sound design are also expert, contributing to the '40s-noir-movie feel of the thing, even though we're always aware that the action is playing out in a Hell's Kitchen apartment in the 21st century.
One of the unique aspects of the production is its music, composed by Randy Redd and performed by McCracken (and, at one point, by Dougherty). It's always supposed to be snippets of the composition that Henry is working on and can't complete, and it sounds exactly as it should, to my untrained ear: fine, interesting, and entirely unresolved. McCracken's playing—live—is terrific. The piano almost becomes a fourth character in the play.
There's the Story is both a splendidly entertaining evening of theatre and a promising debut for a new playwright. It's a very accomplished work, and mostly a satisfying one. I'm always excited to catch McCracken the actor whenever he appears on stage in NYC; now I'll be waiting eagerly for the next product from his pen as well.