There Are No More Big Secrets
nytheatre.com review by Nathaniel Kressen
November 12, 2010
Heidi Schreck's new play There Are No More Big Secrets has a bold, inventive first act that seamlessly blends ripe domestic conflict with supernatural elements. It is a harrowing, fascinating journey into past lives, lost lives, and the seemingly insurmountable divide between characters' actions and their better judgment. The second act, however, touches only briefly on the show's most compelling storyline, instead retreating into more predictable subject matter. Unfortunately, this play that starts so strongly ends up fizzling out unresolved.
The show begins with the reunion of three friends after fifteen years without contact. Charles and Maxine are leading a strained marriage on the banks of the Delaware River when their old friend Gabe returns from Russia with his native wife Nina, a renowned journalist seeking refuge from the violent censorship of her government. Their conversation provides a compelling glimpse into how the past fifteen years have shifted the group's philosophies, and also paints a vivid portrait of the differences between Russian and American culture. In one exchange Maxine confesses her hesitation bringing a child into the world because she would be scared for its safety. Nina, whose fourteen-year-old daughter grew up amidst war and poverty, questions what she possibly could be so scared of in the suburbs of America. Maxine struggles to find a sufficient answer.
As they slug down glass after glass of vodka, the conversation turns to Russian folklore and mysticism. Gabe brags that Nina foresaw their daughter would be named by Gorbachev, and that her spirit once left her body to visit a boyfriend across Moscow and move a book from its shelf. While Nina is incredulous of her own abilities despite the proof, she recognizes that such things do occur, and that danger may befall people who attempt to control it. Maxine interjects that she recently discovered an ancestor was accused of being a witch, and in time we learn her spirit may be haunting the house. This exchange creates a tangible feeling of unease and anticipation as the group disbands and private encounters take place in the dark. Foolish choices are made, desperate truths are unearthed, and the destinies of two couples are forever changed.
In the second act we meet Lana, the teenage daughter of Gabe and Nina, who arrives at the house unannounced several months later. She finds everything in a state of flux, with Maxine and Charles on the outs and the house up for sale. While the scenes as written are compelling, and the performances engaging, the subject matter of the second act feels inconsequential. A breathtaking surprise occurs just before intermission, but isn't approached again until very late in the play. By then it resonates more like an afterthought than a major plot point.
Director Kip Fagan builds a cohesive and evocative production, framing moments distinctively with well-crafted design. John McDermott's scenic design is nothing short of outstanding. The living room is detail-rich and stylish for the first act, then stripped of all possessions to present a haunting, empty world. Lighting by Matt Frey, sound by Daniel Kluger, and costumes by Jessica Pabst are mesmerizing, setting the tone perfectly without drawing attention from the action.
The cast is strong and suited perfectly for their roles. Dagmara Dominczyk brings a nice mystery to Nina that obscures her true intentions yet justifies the heightened realism of the play. Adam Rothenberg hits a range of emotions as Gabe, endowing his character's misguided obsessions and still managing to keep him likeable. Christina Kirk as Maxine convincingly portrays a woman incapable of relaxing. Gibson Frazier gives a nuanced performance as Charles, a seemingly upstanding citizen with an unexpected addiction. And the young Nadia Alexander brings a wonderful sincerity to the role of Lana, shining as the focal point of the second act.
Were this play to receive another run, I would encourage Heidi Schreck to revisit her intentions for the second act, and the play as a whole. She introduces a number of themes and agendas, then lets many of them fall short of resolution. There Are No More Big Secrets would benefit greatly from seeing them through to fruition.