Everything is going fine in Anthony Neilson's "Stitching" until it becomes clear that the title refers to something so repellent it's hard to even care about the play anymore.
Everything is going fine in Anthony Neilson’s “Stitching” until it becomes clear that the title refers to something so repellent it’s hard to even care about the play anymore. The performances are fine: Meital Dohan (“Weeds”) does very impressive work as a frustrated woman — maybe two women — caught in a destructive relationship, and Gian Murray Gianino has a few poignant moments as her milquetoast lover(s?). The brief two-hander is tightly structured with some well-observed dialogue, but it eventually self-destructs with an angry, sadistic bang.
The problems in the writing are exacerbated by a couple of Timothy Haskell’s directorial choices that drag the play kicking and screaming out of its native Scotland, where it was first performed at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theater in 2002. Chained to Anytown, USA, and clearly unhappy about it, “Stitching” exacts its revenge on Haskell and his performers by sounding thoroughly Scottish despite the characters’ various accents (Gianino is from New York, Dohan is Israeli).
Still, Haskell has cast actors with a lot of personal chemistry, and he keeps the line between mutual destruction and vigorous sex appropriately blurry throughout the course of the doomed relationship. Even though the play eventually crashes and burns, it’s never boring.
The play’s first scene is its best: Stu (Gianino) sits in silence on Garin Marshall’s well-dressed set, emotions running across his face like beads of sweat. He doesn’t say anything for a moment and then sets about delicately trying to ask what may be the least welcome question in the history of pregnancy: Is it mine? A lot of things about the next 10 minutes work well — Neilson can go for pages without using the word “pregnant,” for example, and he also uses those pages to illustrate the total unsuitability of this couple for parenthood.
As soon as this scene closes, we see the same actors on the same set enter as very different people: a prostitute and a john engaging in a Pinterish transaction with lines like:
It turns out the differences we’re seeing in the people onstage are caused by time, not identity, and that something awful has happened as a result of the decision to have or not have the child who was revealed in the first scene. It’s not that strange a tragedy, which is why the unearned horror-movie finale rings so hollow. If it’s a cleverly told story about everyday life, why go the extra mile to make it revolting?
Neilson seems to believe the show needs a little extra jolt of nastiness to keep the audience interested, and it speaks well of his abilities that he’s underestimated himself with “Stitching.”