The New York International Fringe Festival
More occurs between one sunrise and the next than most of us realize, and spread over a long period of time lives we may consider insignificant can be packed with action. So even though almost nothing “happens” in Owen Panettieri’s play at the New York International Fringe Festival, The Timing of a Day, the lives of three roommates, friends, and erstwhile lovers are revealed to be shockingly eventful. Panettieri, director Joey Brenneman, and their excellent cast are providing a true object lesson in how to carve a deeply affecting work from a block of apparent ordinariness.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about their accomplishment is how they don’t shy away from embracing the everyday. Most of the scenes are set at random times on forgettable dates — we see how Doug (Nik Kourtis), Josh (Adam Shorsten), and Paige (R. Elizabeth Woodard) interact in the mornings before work, on game nights, after break-ups, and so on. In fact, were it not for Barack Obama’s election and subsequent inauguration as guideposts, this play could as easily take place 20 or 30 years ago as today. It’s that sense of the cyclical that lets the work be more than a shallow exploration of young-adult angst.
The play covers about two years, from early 2007 to just after the inauguration, with the first scene set in early morning and the next-to-last scene set late at night. But the story does not unfold entirely linearly — the first two scenes and the last two scenes appear in order, but the four in-between scenes establish the chronology’s context. At the beginning and end, we see everyone’s relationships at their most fully developed, but without the nuances, which are then supplied by the trips to the past. As in real life, people this close don’t need to speak of their shared history — it informs their behavior without them realizing it, and they take that impact for granted, even though Panettieri never does.
Childhood friends Doug and Josh “interview” their new roommate Paige, who works with Josh at his children’s theatre company, and immediately comes between them — on Josh’s side because he wants to date her, on Doug’s side because she’s the only one to whom he can confess his true, romantic feelings for Josh. That Paige is trapped in an on-again-off-again fling with her dullish boyfriend Matty (Justin Anselmi) only exacerbates the difficulties they all have revealing their feelings to each other. And when each of the various pairs learns the truth, the results are predictably devastating.
Well, for them. The overall effect is a more uplifting one, highlighting the importance of friendship, love, and never confusing the two, and making the most of the moments you have. Yes, even the messages are perhaps trite, but the play elicits them so naturally and effortlessly that you never feel you’re being manipulated. Watching Doug and Josh grow closer together and then apart, and seeing how Paige’s presence (and, for that matter, Matty’s) changes the direction of Josh’s life without her realizing it, are touching precisely because unspoken yearnings and betrayals usually say more about people live and love than can be easily expressed in words.
But Panettieri doesn’t ignore the broader details, either, and sets the interpersonal tale against the backdrop of the usual anxieties about career, family, and existence itself that typically hit during one’s mid 20s. Matty comes across as a bit extraneous — Josh and Doug have exes of their own who seem more integral to the story than he does — but everything else is tautly constructed, leaving The Timing of a Day to feel surprisingly full.
It’s built up even more by Brenneman’s tart, claustrophobic staging (on a surprisingly elaborate living-room set by Jared Rutherford) and the actors themselves. The contrast between the sturdy and stoic Shorsten, the slighter and more caustic Kourtis, and the splashy Woodard energize their interactions and allow for lots of ups and downs — at which the performers are equally adept at presenting. Two drunk scenes are especially good, as are two make-out sessions in which the actors aren’t afraid to strip themselves of their emotional barriers as well as layers of clothing. But Josh, Doug, and Paige all visibly evolve as they discuss topics as theoretically inconsequential as work, clothing, and ice cream. As if it were a more serious version of a Seinfeld episode, every word counts.
The subtlety of how the three commune during the final scene, in which Josh, Doug, and Paige meet for the last time, is particularly powerful; you see in their faces and hear in their voices how they’ve come to be where they are, and where they’re likely to be going. In not every case will the final destination be a triumph, but they may all learn how to build good things from what they learned along the way. Much as in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, these are people who haven’t realized how special their time together, their fights, or their heartbreaks actually were. But it’s with a charming, moving fervor that The Timing of a Day celebrates them — and everything else about life we seldom cherish until it’s too late.
VENUE #4: 4th Street Theatre