A Guy Adrift in the Universe
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 21, 2007
An early description that I read of Larry Kunofsky's A Guy Adrift in the Universe said: "Imagine Muddy Waters writing an episode of The Simpsons." I'd like to amend that this way: Imagine Larry David and Thornton Wilder collaborating on a re-do of Our Town.
Yes, I think that's closer.
A Guy Adrift in the Universe tracks the life of a guy (his name, in the program, is A Guy) from birth to death. Literally. Kunofsky's writing is funny and sharp, and the structure of the piece—and I think director Jacob Krueger shares some of the credit here—is astonishingly seamless: our protagonist ages before our eyes, often without even a single visual cue save the excellent evocative work of actor Cory Grant; and locales morph just as miraculously, from hospital to living room to school to office and so on, through the final setting, which is, fittingly, a hospital room very much like the one we started in.
The tone is generally deadpan-sour, but underlying it all is an authentic appreciation of what matters in life and how easily and cruelly it's squandered. Consider this, from the middle of the play, when A Guy is coping with trouble at work:
My first day on the job, my original boss went on vacation. Two weeks later, I pretend to look busy whenever he steps out of his office because I didn't want him to think I was goofing off WHICH I WASN'T, I JUST DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO DO and about a decade goes by and here we are.
Or this, from a troublingly serious vignette in which A Guy has something important to tell his father:
A GUY: All I know is I woke up today and felt this really strong need to give Dad a piece of my mind and I can't see why anything other than your cryptic statements would prevent me from doing so.
A WOMAN [his mother]: But. Think about where we were. Yesterday.
A GUY: Okay, the cemetery, yeah?
The play pulls us short like this over and over again. It's sometimes a little glib and sometimes a little postmodernly (and perhaps even self-consciously) nihilistic, but it's anchored firmly in a wistful pragmatism that's hard to come by these days.
Krueger moves his expert four-member company through the piece deftly and economically. Four Chairs Theatre, a venture co-founded by Krueger and Kunofsky, is the producer of A Guy Adrift in the Universe, and as the name implies, they've mounted the show on a simple set (by Niluka Samarasekera) whose principal furnishings are indeed four chairs; props identifying pivotal moments from A Guy's life are hung on hooks on the rear wall of the stage. The spareness of the staging is quite lovely and helps reinforce the universality of its themes, frankly and without sentiment.
Grant never leaves the stage in the title role and his performance is splendid, capturing the self-centeredness of youth and the wisdom of age as his character grows right before our eyes. Corey Patrick, Zarah Kravitz, and Sutton Crawford play all of the other people in the play—I didn't count, but I'd estimate at least two dozen among them—and they're superb. Catherine Fisher's costumes, all clever and evocative, help them convey the defining aspects of each of the many archetypes they're called upon to summon, from parent to wife to lover to child; from doctor to friend to boss to nurse.
The entire evening flies by as fast as a lifetime sometimes seems to, tribute to the excellent skills and talents of all of the artists contributing to this show. There's plenty of humor here and considerable food for thought as well.