nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
May 28, 2005
Richard Lovejoy’s new play, Tiny Dynamite, has an imbalance problem. It pays too much attention to minor characters and events, and not enough attention to its protagonist(s). I write that last part tentatively because it’s never entirely clear who (or what) the play is about.. Is it, as the press release says, about a woman who decides to commit suicide? Is it about the depression and apathy that lives within an entire generation of aimless, cynical twentysomethings? Or, is it about something else entirely? Alas, I cannot say. I am sure that the author’s motives for writing Tiny Dynamite are sincere, but it’s hard to know what they are because he won’t commit to… well, anything. Yes, the heroine wants to kill herself, but she never seems to look for a reason not to. Then again, she never seems to have a good reason for doing it in the first place.
Liz, the protagonist, is depressed. Last New Year’s Eve, she tells us, she was the only single person at an all-couples party (all of whom were making out, by the way). By her own admission, “I tend to be a minor character in my own love life.” Then, in the spring, her father died. It is, therefore, understandable that Liz is depressed. But, do these things add up to a justifiable reason for suicide (at least, in compelling, theatrical terms)? I think not. Especially since Lovejoy never connects these events to Liz’s desire to kill herself. He never even connects them to her depression! There is never any clear reason given as to why Liz wants to shuffle off this mortal coil. The audience is left only to assume, to guess, what the reason is. Dramatically speaking, that is not good enough. If we don’t know the root of Liz’s dilemma—if we are not as invested in it as she is—then we cannot empathize with her. Nobody wants to spend the evening with someone they don’t care about.
Once Liz’s decision is made, Tiny Dynamite’s press release claims that she tries “to get her life in order and set things right with those she has pissed off.” Which is not true—she does nothing of the sort. She just spends less and less time in the Bay Ridge apartment she shares with her three roommates, because she doesn’t feel comfortable there. And, with good reason: her house is a Petri dish of clashing personalities. They are: an unmotivated career-college student; an ex-fling whom she may or may not still have a crush on; and the fling’s sister, who is the most passive-aggressive human on the planet. I wouldn’t want to be there, either.
However, it’s at this juncture, that Liz temporarily disappears from the play, and Tiny Dynamite is handed over to the roommates, which proves detrimental for two reasons. First of all, whatever emotional journey Liz is on during that time happens offstage: the audience never sees it or hears about it. Secondly, by putting the play into the hands of the roommates, Lovejoy (unknowingly, I hope) gives Tiny Dynamite over to a trio of shallow and uninteresting characters. Jen, the fling’s sister, is the biggest offender. She clearly has a problem with Liz from the get-go, but never tells anyone what it is, thus making her constant rebukes of Liz just seem childish and unwarranted. Ben, the career-college student, displays snarky, caustic wit, but little else. His one moment of humanity—a confession that he had no one to turn to during a painful (offstage) breakup—is wasted on Jen, which makes him look none too bright. As for Jon, there is something unspoken between him and Liz—perhaps lingering sexual tension? We never learn, because it remains unspoken to everyone else, too. Motives are mysterious throughout Tiny Dynamite because no one talks to each other. Which could be a great source of dramatic tension, if only Lovejoy would let the audience in on what the characters are thinking. But he never does, which only makes the audience lose interest in them all the more quickly.
Unfortunately, the most one-dimensional character on stage—in a play full of them—is Liz. It could be that Lovejoy is trying to set her apart from everyone else by trying to make her more soulful and deep because of her depression, but I doubt it. He seems to be more interested in everyone else. Minor supporting characters (one of Liz’s blind dates, the housemates’ always-drunk loudmouth friend, and a nightclub singer-songwriter) are given almost equal (if not stronger) voice as Liz. Potentially colorful story details—like the fact that the roommates live next door to a brothel—recur for no higher reason or purpose. Several scenes, including one where Liz first meets her new roommates, go on long after their setup, action, and resolution have all been accomplished. All of these missteps betray Lovejoy’s lack of focus, judgment, and skill.
Director Brad Raimondo does little to help matters. It feels like he’s as uninformed about the proceedings as the audience is. The actors look as if they’ve been left to decide the blocking and the tempo on their own, giving Tiny Dynamite the feel of a two-hour acting class (albeit, a decent one)—lots of “meaningful” pauses, but no sense of dramatic build. Raimondo’s plodding scene transitions—which involve the actors making changeovers in character, with the lights still on—grind the production even further to a halt. Under these circumstances, Lovejoy and Raimondo’s decision to forgo an intermission is unforgivable.
The cast does the best they can with all of this—they all seem like talented actors—but it’s ultimately of no use. There is only so much that can be done with a script that plays like an unrevised first draft. Nothing about Tiny Dynamite showcases the actors—or anyone else, for that matter—in a good light.