Friday, July 06, 2007

PLAY: "Goodbye April, Hello May"

Ethan Lipton's new play, Goodbye April, Hello May, too closely resembles the lives of its characters. These five roommates live in a city kept awake only by the constant sound of bombs breaking over Coney Island; their lives are awkward fumblings for security and companionship. The show lives on a stage kept awake only by the steady stream of Lipton's satirical 22nd century; once the shock value of those ideas fade, all that's left are the awkward stagings of director Patrick McNulty, fumbling for something deeper than the jokey surface.

Truth be told, the play is far too subtle to be properly satirical (unlike Pig Farm), and not thematically distinct enough to support itself on language (as with God's Ear). Lipton slips in references to the now-literal prostitution of PR work and McNulty swaddles Frank in a different gauze to demonstrate the dangers of teaching kindergarten, but the sections that truly work have Frank explicitly describing how he had to shoot a seven-year-old student: "Give me a fucking star, Frank," he says, describing the girl: "The animal." I use the two plays above as examples because the cast features Bill Coelius and Gibson Frazier, both of whom are restrained here, plodding around a dimly lit kitchen in their underwear or pessimistically talking about the idea of painting with gray. The mood is as cold as Eben Levy's accompanying techno music, which is why even a ridiculous wedding dance ends up looking more uncomfortably epileptic than hysterically spastic.

While the flaws above are due to direction, Lipton's main concern should be the lack of conflict. Goodbye April, Hello May is about alienation--of sisters, of the fifth wheel, of couples--but that doesn't give the production carte blanche to stay distanced. The text is just maddeningly casual: Frank is passive about his girlfriend Paula's late hours at a hospital, nobody seems upset when Paula is horribly burned by a firebomb (she recovers after a few jokes at her expense), and while Kelly Mares' perkiness as Irene is a nice balance for Coelius' Eeyore-like Tom, their love-at-first-desperation doesn't have much of an opportunity to develop. The one choking moment in the show comes from Albert Aeed, who plays the lonely ex-drug-dealer Harry; as he recounts the various jobs he's settled into--a list that just keeps going--he suddenly cracks with the realization of how little it all means.

Lipton's ideas are solid, but the story doesn't drive anywhere, which may be why the play idles out into an intermission despite being only ninety minutes long. After catching a breath, it feebly tries to make a point about the outdoors as opposed to the city. Unfortunately, McNulty's blocking makes the opposite point: by juxtaposing both lifestyles atop one another (hard to do otherwise when the stage is encircled by the audience), it just looks like life is alienating, period.

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