Wednesday, April 25, 2012

THEATER: Lonely, I'm Not

[EDIT (4/30): My assessment of the show, in case it's not clear from the "published on" date, is based on a PREVIEW performance.]

Lonely, I'm Not; bored, I am. Paul Weitz's new play at Second Stage isn't awful, it's just awfully empty in its exclamatory presentation of Porter (Topher Grace), a once-vicious, work-obsessed man who has spent the last four years recovering from a nervous breakdown, failed marriage, and current depression. Trip Cullman, rarely the most subtle of directors, only adds fuel to this fire by blaring the titles of each abbreviated scene in neon signage that is both behind and a part of Mark Wendland's set. The final product ends up feeling more like the cover of a magazine, flashy and colorfully designed so as to lure the reader in, than it does like a substantive address on the human condition.

This is doubly true for Porter's love interest, Heather (Olivia Thirlby), a beautiful, strong, and confident person who thinks of her gender as the only disability in her role as a high-level analyst, not her literal blindness. She's a Post-Feminist Depressive's Pixie Dream Girl, an always forgiving, entirely open, and corrective force for the hero, and little more. And it only gets worse from there for the supporting characters, who have been double-cast in the efforts to make the actors feel as if they're actually contributing something, though it's clear that Heather's clingy, hyperactive roommate Claire (Maureen Sebastian) is just comic relief, as is the college friend who sets Heather and Porter up, an inexplicable expletive-spewing man known only as Little Dog (Christopher Jackson). Weitz throws away opportunities to deepen his characters at every turn: he introduces Porter's deadbeat dad Rick (Mark Blum) as a way of explaining Porter's emotional ennui rather than to challenge or develop it; Heather's mother (Lisa Emery) is of the cheerily judgmental sort, revealing Heather's drive, but not interacting with it.

My frustration with Weitz's work (which admittedly still has two weeks of previews left) stems most, however, from my closeness to Porter; he and I aren't so different (minus the depression), and I fear that if I can't fill in the blanks, nobody in the audience will be able to connect. Or, worse, they'll breeze past this as a variation on the meet-cute comedies, though the relationship (and chemistry) between the two is tenuous at best, a fact that self-conscious Porter can't help bringing up. I guess I'm just sick of lazy writing like this making it onto a respectable stage: heaven forbid a scene last longer than four minutes and actually deal with its emotions instead of making light of them. Why bother to develop a character when you can just have Porter, working as a telemarketer, chat amiably with a senile and equally lonely eighty-six year old: Look, look at how broken he is! Why build tension when you can just have Porter abruptly scream over the commitment that comes from a home-cooked meal, and for that matter, why even bother to have Porter emote at all, when he can just tell us (after the fact) how he cries during sex.

It's ninety minutes of pseudo-inspirational pap, in which characters show how wounded they are by flopping on the floor or taking a lighter to their palm and then just miraculously decide to get better. If it's really that easy, then it's really not all that dramatic, and it's certainly not comedic; either way, Lonely, I'm Not is not worth your time.

1 comment:

Kid Power Programs said...

Thanks for this. A well-written review.