Regional Reviews: Boston
Johanna Day returns to the Huntington (Good People, God of Carnage) in the role of successful journalist Zipporah "Zippy" Zunder. While investigating a new social phenomenon that suggests the souls of aborted fetuses enter the bodies of babies born nine months and forty-nine days later, liberal, pro-choice Zippy begins to alter her perspective. Having started the assignment as a less-than-objective total skeptic, events and coincidences occur that cause her to step back and look anew at her own past, searching for a way to understand how earlier choices led her to this story and what it means for her future.
The article is the main catalyst, but Zippy has several reasons to feel unmoored. Her husband Clark Plumly (HTC veteran Munson Hicks), many years her senior, is working on a book that may be his last, and he is showing his age with his constant need for naps and his lapses in hearing. On the other end of the life spectrum, their daughter Zoe (Madeline Wise), a recent college graduate, is at loose ends and suddenly decides to move out, despite not having a job. Zippy's dear friend and confidante Erica (Connie Ray) is trying out a new boyfriend, Mark (Ken Cheeseman), who bears a striking resemblance to Zippy's ex, The Other Mark (also Cheeseman). Their friendship is challenged by a number of things, among them that Zippy hires a former journalism student of Erica as an assistant, despite her misgivings. Hunter (Raviv Ullman) insinuates his way into the family, trying to make himself indispensable even as he oversteps his bounds.
Choice has a surfeit of topics, some of which might be winnowed. The generational divide between Zippy and Zoe, and between Zippy and Hunter is partially represented by technology and seems appropriate to firmly plant the plot in the present. The class distinction between the Zunder-Plumly household and Hunter raises some suspicions about his character, which is in keeping with Erica's warning. It is less clear why Mark is in the picture, other than to give the actor in the dual roles a showcase for his range. The Other Mark is relevant to the plot as a key part of Zippy's history and Cheeseman has a field day with his stroke-induced physical disabilities and quirky Austrian accent. Wise also transforms from the floundering Zoe into a Russian character named Leah or Lena who plays an important role in Zippy's research.
The scenic design by James Noone lives up to the usual high standards of the Huntington and it is complemented by Rui Rita's lighting design. Leon Rothenberg provides a soundscape that includes Motown music and some mysterious noises. Costume designer Mariann S. Verheyen helps to define the characters and further distinguishes the generations by their styles of dress. Holzman writes natural dialogue and director Sheryl Kaller brings the pages alive on stage with every cast member at the top of their game. All of the comedy notes are played to perfection and thenwham!a serious conflict erupts that heatedly expresses two views of the right to choose argument. Day and Ray are both passionate and convincing in their respective positions in this fight, so much so that there is no doubt that the relationship between the two women is forever changed. It is one of the strongest moments in the play. There are other moments that need shoring up or clarifying, especially those that might be described as magical realism, that are out of place, at best. However, the acting is of such high quality that we get pulled through the bumps in the script to the next smooth stretch without too much disorientation, albeit with lingering questions.
Choice, performances through November 15, 2015, by Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-266-0800 or www.huntingtontheatre.org.
Written by Winnie Holzman, Directed by Sheryl Kaller; Scenic Design, James Noone; Costume Design, Mariann S. Verheyen; Lighting Design, Rui Rita; Sound Design, Leon Rothenberg; Production Stage Manager, Katie Ailinger; Stage Manager, Jeremiah Mullane
Cast (in order of appearance): Connie Ray, Munson Hicks, Johanna Day, Ken Cheeseman, Madeline Wise, Raviv Ullman- Nancy Grossman