In the Mood
When the audience first sees Jennifer Workman (Wise), she is in her studio, whacking away at a large chunk of stone with a hammer, chisel, and electric saw. "He appears when I least expect him," Jennifer says when her husband Neil (Lane) emerges out of nowhere, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Jennifer drops some hints early on – making reference to Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' writing on the stages of grief and to The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion's memoir of life after her husband's death – that telegraph rather obviously that Neil is dead.
The playwright tells the story through Jennifer's eyes. She and Neil have had a happy, passionate marriage that has lasted for 23 years and produced one son, college-age Josh (Tim Spears). Neil was a well-regarded college professor until his mentor, Charles Whitmore (Leo Erickson), was named Secretary of State and invited Neil to join him as undersecretary for political affairs. Meanwhile, Neil is endlessly supportive of Jennifer's work as an abstract painter, bringing her flowers and his unquestioned love and desire.
Neil's personality starts to shift when he arrives in an African country in the midst of a popular revolt against the ruling dictator. He feels "ordained to be here at this time," and joins in the chaos, much to the displeasure of the State Department. Before long, he's bouncing from extravagant, unrealistic views of his own importance to crippling depression, as Jennifer tries her best to help him. The question facing Neil is whether a "blissful, ordinary" life on medication is enough to satisfy his needs.
Wurtzel's play is affecting, if a bit schematic, as when Neil's doting mother (Wines) waits until just the right time to unveil a secret of importance to Jennifer. Another problem is that Neil's adoring assistant (Theresa Barbato) never really comes to life; her dialogue comes across as stilted and overly literary.
Lane gives a magnetic, full-blooded performance that fills every corner of Olney's intimate Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab. Wise has a less showy role, but she is just as effective as she attempts to moderate Neil's extreme behavior.
Olney Theatre Center