Also see Zander's review of Hello, Dolly!
The plot opens with a lie: Julie has embellished a story about where she says she has been for the weekend. Pam, who works all the time making documentary films for network television, and Dixon, former corporate lawyer who burned out and now writes "fiction" and indulges in marijuana, have dissimilar reactions and responses. The play benefits greatly from Mensch's on the edge, contemporary, off-center dialogue. Mark Brokaw, directing, utilizes many dissolves, as scenes rapidly shift from one moment to the next. The actors are busy moving around set pieces which include plastic chairs, some wooden tables ...
The questions for the mid-forties parents with the coming-of-age daughter are classic: should they punish or monitor or converse with or let be their clever, appealing, verbal youngster? Mensch presents but does not answer questions.
Julie plays basketball for her school and it would not be surprising if actress Katie Broad once did the same. During the first scene, she runs her fingers around the ball in her lap as if she has handled a basketball frequently. During the opening sequence, Johanna Day, a skilled performer with an impressive array of credits, was a bit jittery on opening night. That said, she receives a mulligan. Day settled into her role as the evening evolved.
Dixon, a man who has evidently had an emotional breakdown and now wears a bathrobe (provided by costumer Michael Krass) during the first act, is embodied skillfully by Rogers throughout. Dixon is Jewish and Pam is not. The second portion of Oblivion catapults religion to the forefront.
Bernard, a large boy living in Queens, is intent upon making a filmwith Julie as the protagonist. He claims he will send this to Pauline Kael and holds a book of hers which he has read and reread until the volume's pages are past well-worn. He is informed, however, that the onetime, dyspeptic yet well-respected film critic, passed on quite a while ago. Bernard proceeds with the film which holds a significant spot within this play.
Rogers is consistently effective and in character throughout the show while Day finds her persona and ease with dialogue, too. Broad is a fine cast. She looks the part, wearing her conflicts upon her face, carrying herself as if she is an athlete. Kunze's Bernard understands that he does not quite fit and hopes that his movie will enable him to find himself.
Mensch has written scripts for television's "Weeds" and "Nurse Jackie." That makes perfect sense: her dialogue for Oblivion cuts quickly, moves swiftly, and reveals more than one dimension for each character. While these characters might seem, on the surface, stock types, that is not the case. Each of the four is complex. Thus, this is not a simple play. It zeroes in on time and place with accuracy and detail. Besides, Mensch supplies a number of intriguing one-liners. At one point, Bernard says, "It's different with married people. There's a porous boundary."
Designer Neil Patel's set invites one to peer into the Brooklyn abode for the family. The rear wall seems a catch-all for many apartment "things." The space also transforms into other locales. Director Brokaw finds a nice balance as he moves actors about and allows them room for flexibility.
Oblivion has staying power. Parents and a mid-teen daughter in conflict? The subject matter is, to say the least, recognizable. This telling and showing, though, is brisk and welcome.
Oblivion continues at Westport Country Playhouse through September 8th. For tickets, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.
- Fred Sokol