Lyric is Waiting
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 30, 2009
Lyric is Waiting, the new play by Michael Puzzo, has received a careful and generous mounting by South Ark Stage and kef Productions. The play itself confused me—more about that in a moment—but the production, which is directed by Adam Fitzgerald, is lovely to look at and features expert performances by a quartet of accomplished actors. Brit Whittle is the play's narrator, Ned, and he's a most sympathetic and likable guide into its surreal world, his character's flaws notwithstanding. Lori Prince, captivating and mercurial, is Lyric, Ned's wife, and she dominates the proceedings in the same way that she has become Ned's passion and obsession. Kelly McAndrew portrays a Librarian who, as she tells Ned, is here "to help you find what you need"; she also plays a few other characters in Ned and Lyric's story and her presence is grounding and the source of most of the play's occasional levity. The fourth actor is Joe Masi, who plays Bigfoot and makes that mythological beast wonderfully human and humane.
The play unfolds in a forest, with a view of a woods as its backdrop (the set, by Joel Sherry, and the lighting, by Christopher J. Bailey, are eye-filling and imaginative). The Librarian's podium, which doubles as kitchen stove and Ned's car and a few other things along the way, sits amidst the trees. A dilapidated old living room couch juts through one of the walls of the stage, as if thrown into this woods by a tornado.
The effect is unworldly and dreamlike, and indeed Ned's very first words in the play are "I have this dream." Lyric is Waiting begins in the present day, with Ned looking back at the tatters of his life after Lyric. She is gone now: has she left him? Or died? Or gone crazy? Has he left her? (All of these outcomes are suggested in the text.) In flashbacks, aided by the Librarian, Ned relates key moments from this all-consuming relationship. We see their first meeting, when he comes upon her vomiting outside a party; they immediately connect, "recognizing" one another, as they say, as soulmates. They become lovers. Lyric is needy and difficult and Ned is enabling. We already know that things end badly for them. Lyric seems to be the fulcrum of almost all of the relationship's obstacles. But Ned, awash in self-pity and guilt from a distance of I'm-not-sure-how-many years, casts himself as the bad guy.
Interspersed with all of this are scenes—the loveliest in the play, I thought—in which Lyric conjures Bigfoot and he helps her find a kind of peace.
I was constantly surprised in this play by its developments and charmed by its unusual characters and imaginative ideas. But I had real trouble making it all add up. Lyric is obsessed with a Nirvana song, which she plays a short snippet of over and over and over and over again: why? Is Lyric really mentally ill? How does Bigfoot fit into her psychology? Why does she deny that she's "Spanish" when she first meets Ned; why does that even matter? The story is filled with interesting details, but they felt random to me when all was said and done. I left feeling that Ned was wallowing in a grief that probably made him feel better—but I really didn't have enough information about him to understand why he was punishing himself in this way. Most important, I was never sure what was Ned's dream and what (if anything) was "real."
I was also a little fuzzy on the play's structure: Ned and the Librarian break the fourth wall throughout in that self-referential way that has become fashionable just now, but I was never sure (as I frequently am not in these cases) just exactly where they think they are or who they think we (the audience) are—why are they talking to me, I kept asking myself.
I missed Michael Puzzo's wonderful, great humor in this play, too. The scene in which Ned and Lyric meet is the only one that made me smile—it's not filled with jokes, but rather with the warm, tentative jokiness that strangers fall back on. Most of the rest of Lyric is Waiting is sad and dark, and I wished for the leavening of a bit of lightness.