nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 3, 2006
And/Or is a program of four short plays plus a live "music video," all written by emerging playwright Stan Richardson. (The music for the "video" is by Hal Goldberg, who also collaborated with Richardson on the upcoming NYMF show The Chidlren.) The evening is something of a showcase for Richardson, demonstrating the range of his writing and his thinking as it explores themes of loneliness, desire, isolation, and gay identity in four very different contexts.
My favorite among the pieces here is the longest one, Another Brief Encounter, which gets its title and its main plot structure from the Noel Coward film of almost the same name. Here, a gay man wanders into a Chelsea coffee shop during Gay Pride Weekend and accidentally (and literally) bumps into someone who is very likely his soulmate. Trouble is, the stranger is from far away and won't be staying in town for long; and, oh yes, our protagonist is (happily?) married, so to speak, in a long-term relationship with a comfortable, if now distant, partner. The play uses a device of a middle-aged British matron speaking the thoughts of its main character, something that, at least as executed by Megan Reinking, doesn't quite work; it also, very interestingly, adds surface noise in the form of three other characters who turn up intermittently at the coffee shop, one of whom tantalizingly seems like he might be the playwright himself, witnessing and/or dreaming the whole impossible romantic scenario. Unfortunately—and this holds for all the plays in And/Or—neither the staging, which can best be termed careless, nor the acting shows the script off to best advantage. Particularly problematic in Another Brief Encounter is an archly flamboyant turn by Jim Bray as a self-described schizophrenic minor character who comes on so strongly that he diverts our attention from the quiet, lovely main story every time he bolts onto the stage.
The evening begins with a short comedy called Anderson Or The Emergency, a paean to Ionesco in which a young man turns up in an emergency room suffering from heartbreak. Sluggish pacing makes the piece feel less funny than it probably is. Naturally is a dialogue between two anonymous lovers who are preoccupied with how they will break off with their current partners; the dialogue in this piece is dense and literary, feeling like it might be more comfortable on the page than on the stage. The final play, I'll Be Seeing You, recalls Coward only in its title as it tells the story of a famous artist and a much younger man with a preternatural fear of aging who longs to be his muse. This piece, which is funny and tender, is probably the most successful of the evening, although Michael Quinlan, good as he is here, is probably at least 20 years too young for his role of the sagacious older man.
The pieces in And/Or—and the playwright responsible for them—deserve future hearings and development in a production more fortuitous than this one.