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(Beckett; 99 seats; $25)
A Play Company presentation of a play in one act by Leslie Ayvazian. Directed by Blair Brown. Set, David Korins; costumes, Michael Krass; lighting, Paul Whitaker; sound, Darron L. West; production stage manager, Lisa Iacucci. Opened Jan. 22, 2006. Reviewed Jan. 19. Running time: 1 HOUR, 15 MIN.
Fran Deirdre O’Connell
Martin David Rasche
Brian Javier Picayo
By MARILYN STASIO
The centerpiece of “Lovely Day” is a marital brawl over the morality of war that scribe Leslie Ayvazian clearly intends to be taken with the utmost seriousness. The battle lines are drawn with precision by Tony Award-winning thesp Blair Brown (“Copenhagen”), making her helming debut, and the talking points are fiercely argued by stalwart stage vets Deirdre O’Connell and David Rasche. But the context for this fight is dramatically arid and devoid of action, with all the sound and fury contained in a ideological argument that, while earnestly fought, is all debate and no play.
The antagonists in this conflict are Fran (O’Connell) and Martin (Rasche), a middle-aged couple who observe their wedding anniversary by duking it out over their conflicting hopes and dreams for 17-year-old son Brian (Javier Picayo), a high school senior.
Martin, a graphic designer and former military officer, would be proud if his son chose to join the service. Fran, a dreamy, failed painter who has been participating in an antiwar prayer vigil with a group of local pacifists, is prepared to kidnap Brian to nurture his musical talent and keep him from the clutches of the military recruiters who have been slinking around his high school.
Under Brown’s steady helming, O’Connell and Rasche stand their ground and fairly vibrate with passionate conviction as they present their opposing viewpoints. Ayvazian, a gainfully employed thesp (“A Naked Girl on the Appian Way”) as well as an award-winning scribe (for “Nine Armenians”), does not go in for subtle or sophisticated debate points, opting instead for rigid positions and simplistic slogans: Martin’s big speech is a defense of war to preserve our quality of life as well as our freedoms. (“We fight for oil.”) Fran’s pacifist position rests on her belief that war itself is against nature. (“Mothers can’t send their children to war.”)
Since the combatants do not address opposing arguments so much as dig their heels in and mock their opponent’s debating style, it is left to the thesps to carry the argument by sheer force of performance. Drawing on his deep voice and manly bulk, Rasche gives Martin a macho sensibility: He has no use for his wife’s girly ideas, which he calls “useless” and “naive.”
O’Connell, who practically bleeds from the eyes to convey Fran’s sensitivity, taps into an inner strength that lets her challenge her husband’s “language of superiority” and brand him “a bully.”
Aside from the disparities in the couple’s fighting weights, their individual styles of attack and defense are pretty standard form for male/female marital disputes, largely because neither overcomes his/her gender type to become a bona fide character.
There would seem to be more hope for Fran, since she gets more stage time during the long wait before the debate. But instead of grabbing the opportunity to develop Fran’s character in some fruitful way — like having her interact with her annoyingly uncommunicative son — scribe consigns Fran to indicate her state of malaise by endlessly rearranging the mismatched furniture in David Korins’ appropriately hideous suburban-living-room set.
As for the particulars of the debate itself: Aside from a thread of military-industrial logic in Martin’s up-with-oil speech and Fran’s pro forma reference to the rights of Saudi Arabian women to drive a car, their arguments consist of generalities ungrounded in specific international issues or current events. That’s no way to argue something as vital as war and peace.
This hole in the heart of the play is curious, because it could easily be filled if the stakes were raised on Brian’s military recruitment — and if the kid had a voice in his parents’ debate about what is, after all, his life or death. As it stands, Brian’s severely underwritten role is that of a bemused outsider, and Picayo (making his stage debut here) seems properly befuddled by all the fuss over nothing. Had the character actually signed with the military recruiter, or even shown some inclination to do so — and engage his parents in discussion about it — this dull domestic argument surely would become less abstract and more dramatic.
But who are we to advise a playwright who seems content just to hear the sound of her own voice?