Brit scripter Anthony Neilson has wrought a brutal psycho-physical two-hander that fails to validate or illuminate the machinations of incomplete souls struggling to establish a foundation for their relationship. While bogged down by overly long scene changes, however, helmer Timothy Haskell’s staging is impressive, underscoring every jagged shift in the contentious interactions of urbanites Abby (Meital Dohan) and Stu (John Ventimiglia), made even more viable by the thoroughly committed perfs of the thesps. Ultimately, what “Stitching” is missing is a compelling reason to witness the disintegration of these two doomed conjugal game players.Ventimiglia’s Stu establishes the underlying, painfully obvious premise of this 75-minute legiter when he declares, “All our problems come down to communication.” This inability to truly connect runs rampant through Neilson’s two alternating scenic conceits: newly pregnant Abby’s ongoing struggle to get Stu to validate their relationship; and alternate-reality, hyperabusive gamesmanship between Abby’s emotionally stunted college student hooker and Stu’s graphically instructive client. Entwined within the script are their allusions to a lost child a la “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” the intermittent recriminations about past infidelities and the couple’s sadly inept efforts to improve their relationship by way of “The Big Book of Personality Tests.” Though intriguing, none of these elements enhance the plot or characters; as human beings they are simply not worthy of attention. What works are the searing portrayals of Dohan and Ventimiglia. Despite the turgid between-scene activity (while they doggedly change their attire in dim light), the two never lose a laserlike focus often breathtaking in its intensity. As Abby, Israel-born Dohan, who earned acclaim as a sex-crazed rabbinical scholar in Showtime’s “Weeds,” ceaselessly burrows into Stu as if her life depends upon his validation of her soul. Her insatiable need to be recognized provides credence to the self-mutilation that gives this work its title. Ventimiglia (Artie Bucco in HBO’s “The Sopranos”) achieves an admirable balance of lust and reticence as Stu relentlessly ravages the ever-present Abby, all the while emotionally distancing himself from her basic needs. It is telling that his Stu doesn’t exude an aura of total relaxation until he can safely report that Abby is gone. “Stitching” is served well by Garin Marschall’s bare-bones apartment setting, the evocative lighting of Matt Richter and the mood-enhancing music/sounds of Daron Murphy.
Lillian Theater; 99 seats; $25 top
An Adamanto Prods., the Lillian Theater with Electric Pear Prods./Melanie Sylvan, Liebman Entertainment and Veronique Ory, Alex Zoppa, Cheryl Bianchi presentation of a play in one act by Anthony Neilson. Directed by Timothy Haskell.
Sets, Garin Marschall; costumes, Louis Jacobs; lighting, Matt Richter; sound/original music, Daron Murphy; stage manager, Elspeth Weingarten. Opened, reviewed, March 6; closes April 5. Running time: 1 HOUR, 15 MIN.
Abby - Meital Dohan Stu - John Ventimiglia