Centenary Stage Premiere: Neena Beber's
The setting is Manhattan. The characters are a realistic mixture of artistic and professional sophisticated upper middle class New Yorkers. The most prominent is Mimi, a dealer in historic documents, books and autographs. She is in her mid-thirties, and living with and engaged to be married to Kai, a successful attorney. Mimi has an independent and bohemian streak, and fears that marriage to Kai will turn her into a prosaic, conventional woman.
Mimi's best friend and confidante is Jack, who is a successful artist. It seems that Mimi and Jack were lovers about a decade ago. Mimi knows that Jack is an amoral sexual predator who objectifies women and is always on the outlook for his next conquest. Worse still, Jack has no compunction about lying and being deceitful to any woman whom he desires to seduce. Visiting Mimi in her apartment, Jack meets her friend Phyllis, a commercial artists' representative. Jack and Phyllis are attracted to each other, and Jack turns up his extremely skillful courtship technique in order to bed Phyllis. Despite her knowledge of Jack's nature, Mimi allows her friend Phyllis to fall into Jack's web of deceit. Mimi appears to still be in thrall to her sexual passion for Jack, and to find perverse pleasure in his predatory behavior.
The only other player is Greta, a self-centered, aggressively libido-driven young actress, Although falling out of favor with him, Greta is still Jack's mistress when Phyllis first meets him. Now losing much of his interest in her, Jack cruelly turns his back on Greta. This does not cool Greta's ardor for him, and, despite everything, Jack continues to boff her whenever the opportunity arises.
The Dew Point is about lots of things. However, it is mostly about individuals navigating their way through life in a society where there is unprecedented freedom, and little social and moral restraint. It is about doing so in an era when traditional societal beliefs and values are not only in flux, but have been rejected by intellectual elites and pop celebrities with great influence. The latter may not be explicitly stated, but anyone aware of the role of literary, educational and celebrity elites in the milieu in which The Dew Point is set will find it implicit here.
The Dew Point is also about the need for individuals who are no longer bound by traditional values to establish and maintain their own standard of ethics, morals and personal responsibility. One of the reasons The Dew Point is successful is that its protagonists are complex, imperfect individuals facing every specific personal situations to which we can relate. They are not artificial constructs designed to populate a polemic on our society.
Neena Beber has provided vivid, funny and thought provoking dialogue throughout. For example, just how wrong or right is Greta when she observes, "I think that jealousy in a relationship is a sign of strength, not weakness.”? Note the following for relevant humor:
And while Jack's mendacity is abhorrent, as far as it goes, his following defense of himself is quite cogent: Jack (to Mimi): "I threaten the conventional choices you've made. 'I'm an addict.' What does that mean? Why does everyone have to pathologize sexuality that isn't their own?”
Helen Coxe fully embodies the unsettled, nervously discontented Mimi. She does display calm and confidence when contemplating her love of collecting historic documents, and in her hard won maturation in the play's final moments. Peter Ludwig conveys the smugness of an artist who considers himself superior to the herd around him as well as the smooth charm which enables him to slake his devouring appetite for sexual conquest. Liz McConahay displays a brisk sophistication at the outset, nicely segues into boastful girlishness when seduced, and finally displays convincing rage when Phyllis inevitably learns the hard truth about Jack. Jennifer Graven's Greta never changes and likely never will. Graven projects an interesting off center quality which makes it both surprising and believable when Greta proves to have more to her than is apparent at first glance. Lustful, willful, and shallow in her interests, Greta is possessed of an admirable native intelligence and honesty which seem to serve her well. Jim Ireland is a little too stiff in conveying the stiffness of Kai. After all, Kai may be stiff compared to the company which he is keeping, but he would not be transversing their universe as nimbly as he does if he were a total stiff.
Director Margo Whitcomb is to be credited with bringing out the nuances in author Beber's uncommonly rich and complex play. There is a striking fluidity and clarity to Whitcomb's work. Ed Matthews' interesting and playable set mostly represents Mimi and Kai's apartment. It features a blue background with what appears to be a very large off-center natural wood picture frame representing a window beyond which appears a skyline featuring two high rise buildings. Halfway forward at the top and sides of the stage are natural wood (one shaped as a round column) boards forming three sides of a wide frame, and more widely spaced at both sides downstage are two similar vertical side frames. At stage right is a platform on which is placed Jack's striking but uncomfortable looking museum piece style chair. Various tables, chairs and desks, as well as a series of steps and a platform at the rear, each have natural wood tops. Julia Sharp's costumes are consistently apt and attractive.
The least successful aspect of this fine play is the overly muddled explanation of the title. Jack has designed a restaurant tapas bar. Because a vapor barrier was not applied to the back wall of the bar, warm air migrating from the hot kitchen behind the bar entered into the wall and become trapped within. As the air cooled, it reached The Dew Point, vaporizing and causing rot within the wall. As a result, the wall collapsed and injured a woman. Jack refuses to accept responsibility for the injuries to the women. This is apparently analogous to the injuries which his behavior causes to the women in his life and his uncaring attitude about it.
It is my belief that The Dew Point will be widely and successfully produced for a long time to come. New Jersey theatergoers would do well to seize the current opportunity to discover this exciting new play and playwright at Centenary Stage.
The Dew Point continues performances (Thurs, 7:30 p.m./ Fri. & Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 2:30 p.m.) through November 19, 2006 at Centenary Stage Company on the campus of Centenary College, 400 Jefferson Street, Hackettstown, NJ 07840. Box Office: 908-979-0900; online: www.centenarystageco.org.
The Dew Point by Neena Beber; directed by Margo Whitcomb