Note to Self
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 5, 2008
Note to Self is a bittersweet drama about the romance between Mark, a school guidance counselor, and Michelle, a professional shopper/jack-of-many-trades. They meet online and have their first date at an Upper West Side coffee shop. They're both experienced, hinting at past relationships that may have burned them a bit. The first-date banter is, well, banter...but something clicks, and the next thing we know a month has passed and they're meeting in Union Square Park. He's on a bench reading a book and she shows up loaded down with packages (for a client). They kiss. We can see that they're "together."
But already there are signs of trouble, and it is these trouble spots that Note to Self mostly concerns itself with. It's a portrait of two fallible people trying to figure out how to make a relationship work.
The strengths of the piece are its realistic dialogue and expert direction, both by Vincent Marano. Marano has the talent to put words in the mouths of his characters that feel authentic and that hint at meanings and issues below the surface, the way actual conversation does. Plus, the dialogue here is often humorous and entertaining.
Marano directs his own work in the very intimate Manhattan Theatre Source space. The settings are minimal—just what's needed to set the scene and give the actors places to sit. Marano is especially masterful in managing our focus, making sure that we are always seeing the most important action (or reaction) on stage at any given moment in the play.
Also very valuable to this production are the two excellent performances of Jerry Ferris and Christina Romanello. Ferris gives Mark a very natural complexity in addition to an obvious likeability Romanello is similarly compelling as the conflicted Michelle. I was surprised, as I perused Romanello's resume in the press packet, to realize that I've seen all of her recent NYC stage performances. Her growth as an actor during this time has been most impressive.
The one thing I missed in Note to Self was the inevitability factor. Whether or not Mark and Michelle are ultimately destined to stay together forever (and I'm certainly not going to tell you how things work out for them; you'll have to find out for yourself), as an audience member I wanted to feel their palpable chemistry as a couple. This just didn't happen for me. I wanted there to be something in each of them that made them irresistible to the other, but I never latched on to what those qualities might be. Without this, despite the sharp writing and smart, layered performances, it was hard to feel fully connected to them and to their story.
But there's plenty to enjoy here, and to contemplate, too, as these two engaging people try to find their way through the thicket of grown-up romance.