Review: ‘Touch’

For a play that's all about making connections -- to the stars above and the stones below, not to mention getting it on with other people -- Toni Press-Coffman's drama is a plaintive study in human desolation.

For a play that’s all about making connections — to the stars above and the stones below, not to mention getting it on with other people — Toni Press-Coffman’s drama is a plaintive study in human desolation. And despite the presence of three supporting characters, Tom Everett Scott, in the central role of a young scientist mourning the loss of his beloved wife, delivers what is essentially an extended monologue. Unlike the authentically science-driven “Proof” (or such lesser specimens as “String Theory”), astrophysics plays a tenuous function here in elucidating character or advancing plot. For all the patter about black holes and the Big Bang, show’s appeal hangs on Scott’s personable portrayal of a young man devastated by a great loss and uncertain about how to go on living.

Scott (“That Thing You Do,” “ER”) is too cute and normal looking to be entirely persuasive as the twentysomething Kyle Kalke, who is supposed to be the epitome of those pasty-face geeks who don’t have much of a life outside the science lab and don’t much care. Although he has stocked up on enough tics, twitches and fidgety mannerisms to get him through the half-hour monologue that opens the piece, the actor projects a generous attitude toward the high school geek who stands outside his peer group, content to live alone in a world beyond them.

In Scott’s warm performance, Kyle is nothing if not wholesome as he recounts his discovery of the wonders of the cosmos. (“The billions of galaxies, the thousands and thousands and thousands of unknowns about atmospheric conditions in those galaxies, the mind-boggling infinite number of possibilities — those are the places where science and the spirit meet.”) He is even more endearing recounting his blissful early encounters with Zoe, a flamboyant free spirit who defies her own crowd to marry Kyle right out of high school.

Although Press-Coffman gives the character life, Zoe never appears in the play, which isn’t set in the real world to begin with, but “in Kyle’s mind and the places he conjures there.” (To set designer Michael Brown, this unfortunately translates to a mostly vacant space with deadly accents of cold stars and plastic planets floating overhead.) With Zoe out of the picture, other characters make an appearance to help the young widower through his grief: Kyle’s best friend (Matthew Del Negro); Zoe’s sister (Yetta Gottesman); and a prostitute named Kathleen (Michele Ammon), whom Kyle comes to depend upon to make him feel alive. But being no more than functionaries who exist to illustrate whatever Kyle happens to be saying about them, they have even less life than the absent Zoe.

At the end, Kyle and Bernie go out to the Arizona desert to retrieve Zoe’s body from the shallow grave where her killers left her under a hard blanket of stones. Although brief and a bit awkward, it’s the most rewarding moment in the play, not because it allows Kyle to reach that state of mind glibly referred to as “closure,” but because it’s a legitimate dramatic scene between two interacting characters engaged in a mutual action. For some reason that doesn’t bear analysis, Press-Coffman has managed to write an entire play about the act of touching without allowing her characters an honest chance to do it face to face.

Touch

Women's Project Theater; 199 seats; $45

Production

A Women's Project & Prods. presentation of a new play in two acts by Toni Press-Coffman. Directed by Loretta Greco.

Creative

Sets, Michael Brown; costumes, Jeff Mahshie; lighting, James Vermeulen; music and sound, Robert Kaplowitz; production stage manager, Gillian Duncan. Opened, reviewed Oct. 9, 2003. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

Kyle - Tom Everett Scott Bennie - Matthew Del Negro Serena - Yetta Gottesman Kathleen - Michele Ammon
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