It Is What It Is
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 23, 2006
It Is What It Is, a new play by Cinda Lawrence presented by Two Spoons Theatre Company, is a very earnest effort to look at addiction and—especially—its impact on the loved ones who must live with, and often enable, the addict's bad behavior. The program lists half a dozen resources and in the center of the show there's a scene in which a therapist gives advice that sounds authentic and potentially valuable. The four actors (one of whom is Lawrence and another of whom is Brandon Kalbaugh, the play's director and, with Lawrence, co-producer) seem enormously committed to their objective of reaching out in a helping and caring way to people who have gone through the situations depicted in their play.
Given all of this, I feel bad to have to report that It Is What It Is is finally an unsuccessful work of theatre, its good intentions notwithstanding. The story revolves around Ariel, a 30-year-old woman who is coming off a bad marriage and a long period of addiction to cocaine and alcohol. She's trying to rehabilitate herself without any medical or institutional help, a choice based in part on financial issues and in part on pride/hubris. She lives with her brother Tyler, who is pretty much a casebook study of an enabler. Their older sister Evelyn is the other principal character in the play; she's a single mom with a 12-year-old son and plenty of problems of her own.
The play is about Ariel's attempt at recovery and its effects on Tyler and Evelyn. At first it feels like Ariel is the protagonist, but about midway through it seems as though Tyler is really the focal point of the story (and at the end, Evelyn suddenly becomes more important as well). Lawrence's lack of focus on an individual story arc makes the play feel diffuse, and the fact that she provides almost no back story for any of her main characters is distancing. How did Ariel get hooked on drugs? Why does Tyler seem to have nothing else in his life besides his sisters? Where's the father of Evelyn's child? Where are the siblings' parents? All of these questions are unanswered, and without this and other information to hook onto, it's tough to become fully engaged.
Also problematic is the fact that Lawrence's script is divided into dozens of brief scenes, all of which are framed in this production by blackouts to cover (unnecessary) costume changes. The transitions add about 20 minutes to an already long one-act play. And, though we're short on background, Lawrence still packs in a great deal of exposition in all of her scenes—her tendency is to constantly tell, tell, tell us stuff about the characters (the revelations pile up as on a daytime soap, in fact). What she and director want to do instead is to show us the characters, and allow them to reveal themselves gradually and organically.
Lawrence and Kalbaugh's performances are fine considering the aforementioned issues. Dina Rose Rivera is much less sympathetic as Ariel. Richard Brundage appears in two cameos as one of Ariel's pickups and Tyler's therapist.
The folks at Two Spoons generate a lot of goodwill because of their evident desire to use theatre to make a difference in the lives of some of their audience members. But they need to hone their talents in order for their work to be genuinely effective in service of their commendable goals.