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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - April 29, 2018

Nicola Wren
Photo by Carol Rosegg

W, the intense yet moving character played by Nicola Wren in her one-woman show Replay, opening today at 59E59 Theaters, is an ambitious policewoman vying to be the youngest sergeant in her district. But just before her scheduled interview, she becomes terribly sick to her stomach. It's not nerves, and it's not, as she tries to convince herself, the prawns she ate for dinner the night before.

As W relates it, the sickness hit her as she and her partner were visiting the home of a woman whose husband has committed suicide. She isn't there long before she starts to feel queasy, and when the couple's young daughter asks the unanswerable question of "why," W is so overcome, she flees the premises and vomits as soon as she hits the street.

W's story emerges slowly and with many circular twists over the course of the hour-long play. She is not one to examine her feelings too deeply, and she definitely is not given to explaining herself to a group of strangers like ourselves. Indeed, she has some unkind words to say about her partner for being a "big, soppy oversharer," what with his gushing stories about his family and his clumsy efforts at sympathy. And yet, almost against her will, a flood of long withheld feelings comes pouring out.

It all starts with a package W receives from her mother, something she found in the garage and thought her daughter would like to have. It is an old cassette recorder with a tape her brother Jamie made for her years ago. And while W avoids listening to it for some time, she soon becomes obsessed with playing it over and over. We get to hear it as well, and while it seems innocuous enough, it sends W on a roller coaster ride of repressed memories of love and loss and sorrow.

The strengths of this tender play can be credited both to Nicola Wren's writing and to her performance. It is filled with the details that bring the seen and unseen characters to life, including W's partner, her cat-loving neighbor, a gentle-hearted cab driver, the little girl who has lost her father, and, of course, Jamie, who, as voiced by Mark Weinman on the recording, becomes as real to us as he is to his sister.

There often is a fine line of distinction between telling a story that we can appreciate for its masterful presentation, and creating a compelling theatrical experience. With Replay, Ms. Wren gives us a portrayal that is most theatrical by effectively striking a balance between reticence and urgency as she looks us in the eye and asks us to make the same empathetic connection that the kindly cabbie driver offers to W when she is at her lowest ebb. This is a lovely, heartfelt, and intimate work, beautifully performed by its creator and gently directed by George Chilcott, founder of the production company, DugOut Theatre. It is a small package containing a lovely gem, a gift from the ongoing Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59.

Through May 13
Theater C at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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