nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
July 7, 2007
Overheard, Russell Dobular's new collection of monologues, is a cute play that could go much further. According to the show's press release, these unrelated speeches are meant to "represent everyday people found in the coffee shop, behind the bar, on a park bench or on the street corner," and indeed they do. Everyone from a self-involved theatre director to an old school Russian matron gets to vent their spleen. But, time and again, Dobular pulls back from delving deeper into the crazed, perplexed, and wounded psyches of his protagonists, preferring instead to play it safe on the surface. Fortunately for him, Overheard is blessed with a gifted and energetic cast that lends the production whatever depth and edginess it may have.
A panoply of characters are presented here, including a restless rural housewife who experiments sexually with her slutty neighbor, a young Brooklyn woman drunkenly recounting what sounds like the worst year of her life, and an actor who can't get himself together because of the way the audience is affecting him. Dobular displays a far-reaching curiosity about humanity with his choice of subjects. He also shows a broad range of skill and talent in writing each of their individual voices.
But, for some reason, the author shies away from deeper insight into these folks. Once he establishes who they are and what they're talking about (i.e., show business, rehab, modern society's lax attitudes towards children) he stops probing and wraps these little playlets up right when they're about to start getting really interesting. Take, for example, the heroines of "Biology" and "Three Days": the first is a woman who lives with an alcoholic, but tries to remain upbeat; the second is a feisty blue collar goddess who has survived drug addiction and mental institutionalization. They're both potentially fascinating characters about whom we learn nothing more than what I've just written. Infinitely promising, but also frustrating.
Plus, it's never really clear who any of the characters are talking to. Without that basic context, the audience is left to wonder what's at stake for each of these people. Why are they spilling their guts to...whoever they're addressing?
It's no coincidence that the strongest pieces in Overheard are the ones featuring actors who know how to fill in the blanks. Leading the charge are Rob Yang, as a diligently mellow beach bum in "A Day at the Beach," and Ashley Gray, as a vitality-sapped spectator of modern life in "Crap," both of whom give the most nuanced and well-rounded performances of the evening. Other standouts include Martha Lee ("Biology"), Kat Garson ("Three Days"), and Byron Beane ("Actor"). Director Greg Cicchino does a lot to activate Overheard, and succeeds more often than you'd think considering the script's inherent obstacles.
Ultimately, though, Overheard is undone by its reluctance to examine its characters more closely. I suspect Dobular can do it, and I hope he challenges himself to do so next time.