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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at CSC space (East 13th St)

By David Lefkowitz

  Christina Kirk, Matthew Montelongo/PH: Judith Greentree

The first stanza of The Beatles' "Across the Universe" tells of words cascading in such torrents, they overflow a paper cup and slither away into the ozone. Ultimately, they're just words, little more than a placeholder for actual feelings and meaningful gestures. Nothing, John Lennon lets us know serenely, is gonna change his world.


In God's Ear, Jenny Schwartz's celebrated, avant-gardey drama produced by New Georges at off-Broadway's CSC space, no amount of cliché phrases or mundane conversations are gonna change Mel's world, which emptied of all meaning when her young son died in a drowning accident. Her brain compensates for the shock by latching onto catchphrases and connections between words. She goes on, because she still has a daughter to raise and because, as Beckett taught us, there's little alternative. Meanwhile her husband, Ted, grieving in his own way, sleeps with barflies and chums up with bar-buddies, mostly as a way to avoid coming home. Tangibly demonstrating how grief colors all aspects of Mel and Ted's existence, every other person they encounter has also lost a son.


Oddly enough last season, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who came to the fore by pushing his naturalistic plays into zany, ominous flights of fancy, won a Pulitzer for writing the fine Rabbit Hole, which examined the loss of a child from a sober, kitchen-sink straight perspective. By contrast, Schwartz sends her tragic couple into a surreal world of transvestite airline stewards, G.I. Joes that come to life - (both male stereotypes perhaps representing the dual possibilities of the kind of man the boy might have grown up to be?) -- and a down-in-the-wings tooth fairy (the briefly funny Judith Greentree). Even the husband's relatively "normal" encounters at the bar have a Christopher Durang-style offness about them.


Meanwhile the words stream on, sometimes in quick counterpoint, sometimes in rhymed verse, sometimes in quieter poetic stanzas. By the end, though the father returns (at least temporarily), nothing has actually been resolved, God has not responded, and husband and wife (Gibson Frazier and Christina Kirk) find themselves as lost as they were at the beginning.


For all the intelligently wrought wordplay and unique theatrical perspective, and for all facility of the leads (Bjork-like Monique Vukovic makes an eerily convincing child), the problem is that this material stretches to a near-punishing hundred minutes. I'd already given up on God's Ear halfway through when the best scene - featuring a gloriously loopy Annie McNamara, in a break-out performance - rescued the next 20 minutes through sheer boy-meets-girl nuttiness. Since Anne Kauffman's direction throughout is irreproachable, that sequence's success only makes clearer the different strands tugging at God's Ear - poetic meditation on loss, surreal/symbolic view of the way minds cope with grief, and realistic look at how verbiage and rote behavior become coping mechanisms. Not to disparage Schwartz's undeniable writing skills and ambition in merging these three ideas, but after awhile, I couldn't help but turn a deaf ear.


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