nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
July 21, 2008
This week I had the privilege of seeing Couldn't Say, a rare gem that is being presented at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, seven years after it premiered at the Washington Theatre Festival. Written by Christopher Wall, a lyricist of the spoken word, Couldn't Say is a gently powerful and moving piece.
Ethan, a professor, and his wife Liz are seated in a car, which has recently broken down; it is the dead of winter, and there is no one in sight, but they sit and wait in hopes that help will eventually arrive. It wasn't long ago that the couple lost a son, an element which looms over them like a dark cloud—but Wall doesn't force this tragedy on us, nor does he force his characters to merely sit and lament over it. Instead, he takes us on a journey through Liz and Ethan's marriage, as they pass the time reminiscing, piecing together their past, planning out their future, sharing and expressing their fears, dreams, and desires.
Couldn't Say is executed with both careful grace and commanding eloquence. Though the prospect of watching an entire show that takes place in a sedentary car could make one anxious, the confines of Eliza Brown's well-designed car does indeed supply us with varying levels, thanks to director Lisa Rothe (and the talented actors Brent Langdon as Ethan and Elizabeth Rich as Liz). Despite the drab winter, with nothing but each other—nothing but their own words or their own silence—we see these two human beings go through a wave of emotions in every shade and color.
The most trying thing about this relationship is that no matter how close they are, having had and lost a child together, and now in the proximity of this little car, they may not have what it takes to make it together. But the world outside is cold and daunting, and they hesitate to step outside and face what life has in store for them. And while the given circumstance brings them closer, it is only in fleeting moments that they truly connect. Ethan isn't really certain about anything as he ponders life's big questions, while Liz is sure of her devotion to her son, whose spirit, she believes, continues to visit. In a beautifully tender, yet sorrowful moment, she speaks and sings to him, one of many moments that showcase the enormous depth Rich has given to Liz.
As I contemplated what would become of these two lifelike beings, what fate has in store for them (or any of us, for that matter), I marveled that I had just sat through a mere 55 minutes, all of which were full and true-to-life, and I hoped that others wouldn't miss out on this wonderful, heartfelt play.