nytheatre.com review by Robin Rothstein
August 19, 2007
The backdrop for Philip Gerson's Night is a painting depicting a collage of slightly warped clock faces and mechanisms, giving the feeling that we will soon be seeing some other faces with insides that are also unwinding. Ensemble plays are probably the most challenging to execute because they require the writer to balance, build, and resolve several storylines at once, and while Gerson delivers some strong scenes and is very adept at writing natural, engaging dialogue, the overall piece doesn't entirely clock in.
Night opens with Ana, a distraught newlywed, bursting onto the stage in her wedding gown. She has literally just said "I do" to Billy and her feet are already starting to feel the chill. We also meet Pete, Ana's real estate mogul boss, who has arranged Ana's and Billy's ceremony and reception. Ana wants Pete to help her get out of the marriage. Pete eventually assures Ana he will, but once she leaves he is on his cell with his travel agent looking for the first plane out of Dodge.
We soon discover that Pete is the man with the plan, always on his cell phone, going from one call to the next, and making promises and apologies in the same breath. Pete is clearly the center of attention for many people and he can have any woman he wants, but he is commitment-phobic and will have nothing to do with "I do."
Marriage and commitment continue to be central themes as we meet Claire and Dave, a weary, middle-aged suburban couple, who for 20 years have made sacrifices for their children and each other. Dave is recently unemployed and resentful, and Claire, a frustrated painter-cum-travel agent, longs to move back into New York. Pete is one her travel clients and has been promising that he will find Claire and Dave a place in the city, but Dave distrusts Pete's motives.
Later that night we find Pete at the gym. He is once again on his cell phone when Samantha, a mysterious young woman dressed à la Laura Ashley, enters dragging a rolling suitcase. A connection builds between them and after Samantha leaves Pete realizes he is smitten. Coincidental crossed paths connecting these six continue throughout the night—in a coffeehouse; in a spooky, possibly haunted, old townhouse; at a museum; in an empty restaurant; in a deserted city park—and intimate connections are sealed, while others are irrevocably broken.
The cast of Night is stellar and I would wager one of the best ensemble casts in this year's festival. Maureen Mueller as Claire is a knock-out and possesses great stage presence. Her separate scenes with Dave and Billy are the most electric and poignant in the play. Grant Aleksander delivers a compelling, multi-layered performance as Dave, even during points when the script fails to give him support. Josh Clayton plays young sous-chef Billy with a nice blend of charm and naivete, and Laurence Lau does a fine job making the shallow, shifty Pete likeable. Lau has an exquisite sense of timing and knows how to mine humor from dialogue that might otherwise roll by. Veronica Cruz plays Ana with energy and Jenn Miller Cribbs is convincing as the childlike, quirky Samantha. Director Michael Lilly evokes a lovely chemistry from his ensemble, although his staging could do with a bit more innovation.
Though Night lurches forward illogically every now and again as a result of the confining single night context, there is still a lot to recommend here. If Gerson can concentrate less on the mechanics of sewing his plots together and focus more on allowing his characters to evolve more organically, Night could become a much more satisfying night out.