The Girl In The Park
nytheatre.com review by Nathaniel Kressen
August 18, 2010
The Girl in the Park is a romantic comedy that begins with a series of impeccable comedic ten-minute scenes. The actors are engaging, the dialogue is clever, and the storyline is continually surprising. However as it delves into darker subject matter in the second "act" (there is no intermission), the play loses its momentum and ultimately settles into a middling faux-happy ending.
Out-of-work critic Allan sits in Central Park, purposefully avoiding the job hunt, the gym, and generally anything that requires effort. When he absently stares at the eponymous Girl passing by, she promptly walks over to ask him directions. She cozies up to his bench even after she receives them, and sassily questions everything from his outlook on life to his improper use of prepositions. Before long she pressures him for a kiss to discover if they are soulmates. He refuses under the pretense that "there's a lot more to it than looks," but she continues to pursue. In a wonderful twist, when they finally kiss she promptly loses interest, and Allan becomes the one who is infatuated. He returns that evening to his wife Hannah, and we see that their marriage is strained, at best. She currently provides for them both and misses no opportunity to lord it over him. He awkwardly confesses to the kiss and asks if she will ever be able to forgive him. She replies with her own confession: that she slept with his younger, more attractive brother Will.
Playwright Matt Owen's script thrives when his characters' entanglements edge on outright mayhem. Especially noteworthy are the tennis scene between the two brothers, set the day before Hannah's confession, as well as any scene featuring Ana Nogueira, who is outstanding as the Girl. Later on, the play struggles to maintain the same believability. The characters' motivations are never quite explained after a substantial plot twist, and we are left to reconcile fact from fiction for ourselves.
The aforementioned faux-happy ending, while beautifully written and performed, feels inconsequential. Its preceding scene (which is the last chronologically) sets the characters at odds, and calls into question everything we've witnessed up to that point. The ending however seems to point in a hopeful direction, but makes no effort to answer the play's lingering questions.
That said, Owen shows abundant talent for using comedic dialogue to explore broad ideas. Characters occasionally riff on various subjects, mining a lot of comedy out of debating everyday assumptions. Even beyond such tirades, there is a lot of substance. The potential impact of a single kiss, for example. It unites Allan and the Girl, and later Hannah and Will. Still, such moments tend to get overshadowed when the plot inexplicably shifts or the timeline is unnecessarily complicated. My encouragement to the playwright would be to trust the simple discoveries; it is in them that his script shines.
Director Jesca Prudencio guides the production capably, and the full cast shows an aptitude for comedic timing. John Jalandoni's minimalist scenic design is the perfect fit for the production, in which multi-use set pieces transform from park benches into furniture for apartment scenes. The message seems to be that no matter how the characters might try to distance themselves, it was that one chance encounter in the park that decided the direction their lives have taken.