…categories (a simple play)
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
August 13, 2006
...categories (a simple play) is a good play that shoots itself in the foot at the end. Melissa Osborne's elegant two-hander about a pair of college friends who re-connect several years after graduation points the audience towards one particular outcome for almost the entirety of its 45-minute running time, only to switch gears in the last scene and go off in the other direction. This is a frustrating turn of events for a play that is otherwise satisfying.
The two friends, known only as The Boy and The Girl, had unspoken tensions between them, both sexual and romantic, all throughout college, but never hooked up because they were always dating other people. After a chance encounter in Manhattan five years later, they go out for drinks—on The Boy's birthday, no less—and the drunken cat-and-mouse games begin. Told in a series of ten short, out-of-sequence scenes (a la Pinter's Betrayal and Donald Margulies's Sight Unseen), Osborne's play charts the history of these two through flashbacks and present-day glimpses, focusing solely on the question of Will They Or Won't They?
I won't spoil the ending here, but I will say that I thought it felt arbitrary, as if decided by a coin flip. Everything that happens in ...categories (a simple play), at least to my mind, speaks to the story ending one clear way. When it unexpectedly ends the opposite way, it feels like Osborne is pulling the rug right out from under not only her protagonists, but the audience as well. Life may end that randomly sometimes, but theatre isn't life. Osborne's play suffers because of this choice.
Which is too bad, because the rest of ...categories (a simple play)—which, unfortunately, never explains the meaning of its title—is funny, insightful, and intriguing. The dynamic between the cocksure but somewhat adrift Boy and the dorky, neurotic Girl sometimes plays out like brother and sister, other times like best friends. But, those pesky tensions always creep in. In one scene, after the two have known each other for a while, The Boy's overtures are looked upon suspiciously: "Am I a project for you?" The Girl asks him. Much later, after making a bold move on the night of his birthday, The Boy admits "Drunk actions are sober thoughts."
Kel Haney directs the production with an eye on the "simple" in the play's title. Michelle Hasiuk's sets and costumes are kept to a minimum, as is Andi Cohen's light design, but are nonetheless effective: the simple addition or removal of a jacket or hat are all the actors need to indicate time and place, while Hasiuk's park bench also doubles as a frat house balcony. Haney keeps the action moving smoothly, and pays keen attention to the actors. William Connell makes The Boy's roguish frat boy charm friendly and endearing, while playwright Osborne gives the The Girl a center that convincingly fluctuates between confident and fragile. Both actors deliver accomplished performances full of depth.
With a tweak or two ...categories (a simple play) could be made even stronger. Still, the current production shows that Osborne is a writer and actor to keep eye on.