Christopher Durang’s monologue-driven tale of two victims of life desperately trying to make sense of themselves and the world around them never quite comes to life under Mitchell Anderson’s unfocused direction. Kate Prendergast presents Durang’s Woman with all the hard-driving energy of a stand-up comedian but doesn’t understand where the punch-lines are. Tim Maculan’s understated delivery creates a sympathetic character but fails to communicate the throughline of Durang’s absurdist viewpoint.
Set in Manhattan and presented against the background of Rick Bluhm’s imaginatively interactive brick-wall set design, the first act is divided into two solo statements by Prendergast and Maculan. Each attempts to personify the line from Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” that goes, “laughing wild amid severest woe.” Prendergast’s Woman is a hyper-intense former mental patient whose hold on sanity is tenuous. She describes the monumental obstacles she encounters simply getting through the mundane activities of the day. At the supermarket she clobbers a man who is standing too long in front of the tuna fish cans. She turns a simple cab ride into a mammoth confrontation that lands her in the gutter. Through it all, Durang instills in this character an ability to be shrewdly observant of her own foibles, commenting, “I think I have sufficient humility to question myself.” Prendergast plows through it all with an energy that rarely ventures below manic. Her one-level harangue never realizes the ebb and flow of Durang’s text, neutralizing the humor and often obliterating the message. There is no clear point of view presented, either from Prendergast or her director. Maculan is much more subdued, giving Durang’s Man the persona of an individual presenting a form of “self-help” lecture. He even carries note cards. In fact, his character is the unlucky individual who happened to be on the receiving end of Woman’s hostility at the tuna fish aisle. Despite his own dysfunction, Man is also a keen observer of life’s absurdities. Remarking on the speeches of actors who always seem to be thanking God for their good fortune, Man states, “God is silent during the Holocaust but involves himself in the Tony Awards.” Though Maculan is more sensitive to Durang’s dialogue than Prendergast, there is very little shape to his delivery as he strings the incidents within Durang’s text together into one long, monotonous speech. And, once again, Anderson’s guiding hand is nowhere to be found. The second act offers a bit more drama as Man and Woman find themselves interacting in each other’s dreams. The highlight of the evening finds Prendergast’s Woman relating her dream about killing talkshow host Sally Jessy Raphael, taking over her TV show and interviewing that historic religious icon, The Infant of Prague (Maculan), about such volatile subjects as the church’s stand on abortion and homosexuality. The impact of Durang’s text isn’t realized, however, as the over-the-top Prendergast and the soft-spoken Maculan never appear to be talking to each other.