Off Broadway Reviews
Kidnapping Laura Linney
9th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival
Couldn't Say, Christopher Wall's unflinching look at a long-running marriage approaching its final weeks, playing at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, unfolds with its only two actors and characters confined to their seats for all but five minutes of its 55-minute running time. Yet the action and sweep it offers trumps much of what's found in many larger, louder, and more frantic plays.
Ethan and Liz (Brent Langdon and Elizabeth Rich) have good reason to be sitting for so long. Their car has broken down on a deserted New Hampshire highway in the dead of winter, and it's warming and safer to stay inside. Theoretically, at least: Since the death of their son Josh some five years prior, as part of a very different kind of highway accident, they've barely been able to look at, speak to, or touch each other, so being so unable to escape each other is frightening for both. But Liz long ago lost control of her life and sanity, and Ethan's grown weary of keeping her and the finances together: She needs to move on in a way she feels he won't allow, he needs more from her heart (and body) than she's willing to give.
Standard stuff? Perhaps. But Wall handles it with sensitivity, intelligence, and tiny flecks of humor that highlight the shared vocabulary that's evolved during their 20-year union. And as directed by Lisa Rothe, you experience every moment of Ethan and Liz's suffocating closeness as if it were your own: The two quickly become caged animals who must kill each other or adapt, and their exploration of their unappetizing available options in just a few square feet of space (in a theater that's not much bigger than their "car") silently but powerfully underscores their dilemma.
Langdon and Rich are excellent, moving swiftly and naturally through the stages of grief Ethan and Liz have kept under wraps for too many years. When under duress, both look prematurely old, as could be expected from young parents recovering from a tragedy. But when they give into their freer instincts the years fall away, well in keeping with Wall's intimation that secrets age you faster than time. Rich's eventual regression into a scared girl lost in the woods is especially heartrending, both for its outward simplicity as representative of Liz's deteriorating mental state and the emotional complexity that justifies her actions with discomfiting legitimacy.
Balancing the two can't be easy, but Rich, Rothe, and Wall certainly make it seem that way. Couldn't Say might benefit from another draft or two, to further smooth out some poetic language that doesn't cut as deep as the more prosaic exchanges, and to perhaps beef up Ethan's dialogue to make him a more fitting adversary for the combative Liz. So skilled is everyone at communicating the shadowy reaches of the unspoken, it's hard not to want to hear more of what they can't so easily express.
Run Time: 55 minutes with no intermission
It's perhaps telling that the biggest laugh in Philip Mutz's amiable but slight comedy Kidnapping Laura Linney, at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, involves not the titular film actress but her fellow Hollywood stalwart Julianne Moore. And in a five-second sight gag at that! Linney, if she's aware of Mutz's play, must be seething. (Moore's reaction is probably beside the point.)
But you can't simply sneer your own way through this hour-long romp. The cast, which includes Mutz as budding actor-screenwriter Josh, Chris Critelli as his gadabout-lothario roommate Steve, and Alley Scott as the overly ambitious but undertalented starlet-in-training who wedges between them with her get-ahead ways, is too energetic and friendly to completely disdain, though they push themselves to pseudo-sitcom extremes in search of laughs.
Josh is even writing a TV pilot called Kidnapping Laura Linney, in which he, Steve, and Carla - but purposefully not Linney - will star. One cleverly conceived, if over-the-top, scene actually finds the trio and an additional actress (Raisa Ellingson) enacting one episode of Josh's insipid comedy, which is about exactly what the title implies - complete with corny canned cackles from the "studio audience." The second half of the play involves, as might be expected, all lines becoming as blurred between fantasy and reality as (for the characters, at least) they are between Linney and Moore.
Nadia Wahhab directs with a light touch, nicely accentuating the conspiracies and professional and romantic rivalries that crop up among the characters. But she can't impart any weight at all to Mutz's play, which concerns itself with little more than wondering how litigious Linney could really be. As an added dose of meta, you might wonder yourself whether Linney might try to shut down Mutz's play. But even that seems too serious a worry for Kidnapping Laura Linney, which is seemingly content providing a few minutes of fleeting fun.
Run Time: 75 minutes with no intermission