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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
GOD’S EAR
at the Vineyard Theatre

SOUND EXPLOSION
By Bill Stevenson

  Gibson Frazier and Christina Kirk/PH: Jim Baldassare

Jenny Schwartz's God's Ear is about a couple trying to come to terms with the death of their young son, but it's hardly the theatrical equivalent of a Lifetime TV movie. Schwartz's offbeat play makes arresting use of language, with the characters speaking largely in clliches, aphorisms, plays on words, and malaprops. It's inventive, if at times irritating. Schwartz has an undeniably original voice, however, and director Anne Kauffman and set designer Kris Stone make the Vineyard production look almost as striking as it sounds.

Mel (Christina Kirk) plays the grief-stricken mother who was with her son at the lake when he drowned. Ted (Gibson Frazier) is the father, who travels frequently for work, and Lanie (the adult actress Monique Vukovic) is the couple's six-year-old child. Mel speaks in torrents of words that seem to be her interior monologue. Early on she has a lengthy, stream-of-consciousness speech that epitomizes Schwartz's wordplay. One section goes: And we'll thank God./And with God as our witness, we'll never be starving again./And the fog will lift./And we'll see eye to eye./And the cows will come home./And we'll dance cheek to cheek./And we'll face the music./And smell the coffee./And know where to turn./And which end is up." It ends with the pairing of two more well-worn expressions: And the fat lady will sing./With bells on."

Kirk rattles off the monologue with aplomb, but after a while the dense language can grow wearying. Developed at the Vineyard and staged last year at New Georges, God's Ear could use more plot to go along with all the verbal pyrotechnics. Some of the monologues are also rather repetitious. The play does offer surreal elements such as the Tooth Fairy (Judith Greentree), who sports disheveled wings and a ratty fur stole, and a transvestite stewardess (Matthew Montelongo), who brandishes a bright yellow gun. Montelongo doubles as a GI Joe who pops up out of the ground. He's one of the dead boy's action figures that Mel stumbles upon.

Kauffman's staging accentuates the surreal, dreamlike nature of the play. She makes clever use of Stone's set, a spare square stage with openings that allow characters to appear and disappear quickly and elegantly. (The Tooth Fairy gets special treatment a staircase is lowered to the stage to mark her arrival.)

Celebrating language and theatricality, God's Ear is the kind of adventurous play that Off Broadway theaters should present more often. Occasionally, the imaginative wordplay and absurdist touches call to mind Edward Albee's seminal The American Dream and The Sandbox (currently being revived at the Cherry Lane Theatre). It will be interesting to see how Schwartz, a former intern in the Vineyard's literary office, develops as a playwright. For now she can be grateful for this top-flight Vineyard production.

 


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