Monday, April 14, 2008

thirty seven stones (or the man who was a quarry)

Medically, I'm happy to have seen thirty-seven stones (or the man who was a quarry), for Mark J. Charney's comic and awful descriptions of kidney stones have scared me into drinking lots of water. But theatrically, I'm very disappointed in the latest production from Working Man's Clothes: they've lost the intensity of Penetrator and are now without even the desperate quality of acting from I Used to Write on Walls. (The lights were also broken on the night I attended, though I doubt that's the problem.)

Thirty-seven stones opens on a bright note, with heroic Nathan trying to pass a thirty-seventh stone as his wife, Erin (Emily B. Murray) berates him -- rightfully so, as we'll learn -- for his behavior. But from there, the play runs like a frightfully unfunny episode of Family Guy: every reference gets an emphatic and unnecessary flashback. Some of these memories are essential to the heart of this play: Edna, unstable in the wake of her now-divorced husband's abuse, is a cruelly possessive mother, and she sabotages his son (or tries to convince him that he's gay) so that she can hang on to him. The majority of scenes, however, are simply uncomfortable examples of how dysfunctional Nathan's life has been, all of which play at the same dim level. They also abandon the kidney stone conceit, which ends up just being a dramatic bookend and an easy device that helps transition through bulky scene changes.

Will Neuman strains plausibility as he tries to pull laughs out from a cast incapable of being serious enough for this sort of dark comedy, and there's little reason to think that the unbalanced script would come across any better with working lights. Mary Round, as Edna, is far from a controlling force (her equally bullish sister, Fanny, played by Ellen David, hits the opposite extreme), and Steven Strobel, as Nathan, seems incapable of playing different ages (his six-year-old is his twenty-five-year-old, just bouncier). If you crave the uncomfortably immature, look no further, but this is far from a working show.

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