Hello, I Must Be Going
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 14, 2010
Hello, I Must Be Going begins with the sound of Groucho Marx singing the song of that title; the paradox of that lyric is at the heart of this drama by Albi Gorn, though not, in general, its fractured sense of humor. The play concerns Harvey, who when we first meet him is just a few days shy of his 50th birthday and also about to be a father, for the first time, of twins. But he's saddled with ambivalence because his father, Maury, has recently suffered a debilitating stroke that has left him unable to speak and paralyzed on his right side. And then very real tragedy strikes when one of the twins is stillborn. (The other, a healthy boy, is named Julius—Julie for short—in honor of Groucho, whose real name was Julius Marx.)
Gorn's play explores how happiness and sorrow co-mingle in the lives of Harvey and his wife, Emma, as they celebrate the birth of their son, mourn the loss of their little girl, and try to come to terms with Maury's fading health. The play is adventurous, in places: Maury is represented by two actors, one of whom speaks his thoughts and also portrays him as a younger man in a series of flashback scenes depicting Harvey's relationship with his Dad over the years. More interestingly, the unborn children are played by adult actors who speak their "thoughts" from inside the womb; and baby Julie also is seen to speak his own, very grown-up thoughts even as he "acts" like the tiny infant that he is.
For me, the most interesting idea raised by the play was how the death of a twin in the womb might affect the survivor: Gorn theorizes that Julie misses his sister rather severely, though he seems hopeful about Julie's ultimate ability to overcome this trauma.
But Emma and Harvey seem quite unable to deal with the hand that's been dealt them, and it bothered and saddened me that these characters never looked to one another for solace or, more important, support. Hello, I Must Be Going is mostly Harvey's story, and Emma comes across more as an obstacle to his personal growth than a helpmeet.
The play trades in emotions that resonate with anybody who's had parents, lost parents, had children, or lost children; but it felt very general to me nonetheless and ultimately I wasn't sure what I was supposed to take away from it beyond a basic sense of the importance of valuing the individual moments in our lives (something neither Emma nor Harvey seems particularly able to do).
The play is directed by Alan Fox on a spare, serviceable set. There are two standout performances that make this particularly worth seeing: Rick Desloge is both hugely likable and enormously convincing as Baby Julie, simultaneously showing us the infant that his parents experience and the intellectual adult-to-be that we meet from the audience. And Michael Twaine is tremendously moving as the "real" Maury—his moments as the stricken elderly man in a wheelchair struggling to communicate with his son are each little master classes in eloquent, economical acting.