An Off-White Afternoon
nytheatre.com review by Michael Bettencourt
August 20, 2006
Something terrible happened that July 4 long ago at Mardi Gras in New Orleans—that's the premise of Eric Meyer's new play, An Off-White Afternoon, directed by Jason Narvy. And the fact that Mardi Gras can never take place on July 4 is only the first of many inconsistencies in the play that hamper it from being the suspenseful noirish thriller it aims to be.
The play begins in the bourgeois living room of Henry and Alice, a long-married childless couple who appear well-suited to each other but who harbor some deep damages in their relationship. On this particular day, Alice is hosting a meeting of her women's group, and the first to arrive is Julie, with boyfriend Kyle and Kyle's friend Jonas in tow.
Because Henry doesn't remember the meeting being scheduled or that Alice has been attending these meetings for some time, he becomes obsessed about getting the low-down on what his wife has been doing in the group. To get what he wants, he turns to the unlikeliest sources in the room: Kyle and Jonas, both of whom couldn't care less about Alice, her meetings, Julie, Henry, and life in general, but who string Henry along with promises to fulfill his hunger for information.
I won't go into the plot machinery that leads the two ne'er-do-wells to get Henry to admit that he committed a murder in New Orleans, which then prompts Henry to stab Kyle to death while Julie and Alice are hidden away in the bedroom trying to confirm if Julie is pregnant with Kyle's child. (Not to mention Jonas's re-concoction of the green liquor that supposedly crazed Henry on his New Orleans bender, or the reason why Henry ran away from a gathering of Alice's family, where he was slated for introduction to the clan, in order to hop on that fateful plane to Mardi Gras.)
Suffice it to say that in the interest of creating mystery and intrigue, the playwright expects the audience to buy that what happened before their eyes did not happen, and that what did not happen before their eyes is what really took place—and it just doesn't work because the script feels a draft or two away from actually figuring out for itself all of its plot machinations. One sign of this is that Meyer has to do a lot of backing and filling late in the play through long expositions by Henry and Alice to spackle over plot gaps and jury-rig some coherence.
Director Narvy does manage to get some noir mileage out of the piece. Dan Pfau plays Kyle well as a snake that may, or may not, bite depending upon some inner whim, and Ian Schoen plays Jonas with a blandness that barely hides the grinning psychopath underneath. Anne Carlisle's Julie gets shunted to the offstage bedroom early on and doesn't return until late, but her blond pony-tailed innocence makes her come across as perhaps the last honest person left in the world. Cash Tilton and Asta Hansen work well together in portraying a couple who, though they've lived with each other forever, still don't know each other as deeply as they should.
But An Off-White Afternoon promises more than it can deliver, and what it delivers is more muddled than murky.