×

String Fever

Cynthia Nixon is now playing pregnant onstage. In this softer-edged comedy about a 40-year-old music teacher whose biological clock is booming in her ears, the willowy redhead is expecting, and the father could be any one of three men. Never mind whodunit, a more pertinent question is whether play has the stuff to survive without her.

With:
Lily - Cynthia Nixon Janey - Cecilia deWolf Gisli - Evan Handler Matthew - David Thornton Artie - Tom Mardirosian Frank - Jim Fyfe

Cynthia Nixon recently blossomed into radiant single motherhood as Miranda on “Sex and the City,” and now she is playing pregnant onstage. In this softer-edged comedy about a 40-year-old music teacher whose biological clock is booming in her ears, the willowy redhead with the wistful smile is expecting again, and the father could be any one of three men who play key roles in her character’s otherwise modest life. Never mind whodunit, a more pertinent question is whether Jacquelyn Reingold’s sweet, but rather precious, play has the stuff to survive without this lovely actress’s glowing presence.

Even as she dashes Lily with refreshing doses of self-awareness and wry humor, Nixon radiates sympathy for the hapless heroine, whose musician boyfriend has tossed her out of his house and checked himself into a funny farm where the mental exercises involve developing close attachments to pieces of furniture. (Although his character Matthew remains egregiously undeveloped, David Thornton gives definition to “mental wreck” whenever he makes an appearance, mumbling and stumbling and clutching a lawn chair for comfort.)

Left in the lurch, Lily finds herself floundering in a world that has suddenly lost its core of meaning. This gives Michael Lincoln his light cue to shower the walls with the random starbursts of a disordered and possibly hostile universe, while prompting from Nixon a dazed look of hurt and disbelief that has Lily’s friends dashing to the rescue.

As played by Mary B. Robinson’s sterling ensemble cast, these friends couldn’t be friendlier — or funnier. Lily’s best friend (in one of those beautifully blunt turns that Cecilia deWolf specializes in) tries to jolly her into a new relationship. Her suicidal father (Tom Mardirosian, in his best wounded-bear mode) thinks she should give Matthew another chance. An antic Evan Handler (another familiar face from “Sex and the City”), as a boisterous Icelandic artist whose life in Reykjavik is one big lunatic misadventure, just wants to distract his friend with hilarious videos. Lily is indeed blessed with this cheering squad.

But Lily doesn’t get what she really needs — a new sense of meaning and direction — until she meets a nerdy physicist named Frank (Jim Fyfe, a little nerdier than he needs to be). Though he seems to be a washout in bed, Frank turns Lily onto string theory, a kind of theory of everything that promises to connect all the free-floating mysteries of science and — as Lily profoundly hopes — of that messy business we call human life. Indeed, when Lily and Matthew finally have their sit-down, she is outraged to discover that he, too, has read physics. “Physics is mine,” she warns him. “You keep your crazy fucking head out of my physics.”

Although “String Fever” is no “Proof,” the science stuff works. (It had better work, since the show was commissioned by the Sloan Foundation as part of a project “to stimulate artists to create credible and compelling new theatrical works exploring the worlds of science and technology.”) But the play cheats on the emotional reality of the characters. For all the amusing chit-chat between Lily and her friends, real discussion stops just when they’re on the verge of revealing something significant about themselves and their need for the “strings” of human connections.

Too often, and in the most arbitrary manner, it’s because one character or another has a health problem. In the case of Matthew, it’s because the character never comes alive. Whatever the reason, the “strings” are tied up too neatly, without ever being stretched.

String Fever

Ensemble Studio Theater; 99 seats; $35

Production: An Ensemble Studio Theater and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation presentation of a play in one act by Jacquelyn Reingold. Directed by Mary B. Robinson.

Creative: Sets, David P. Gordon; costumes, Michael Krass; lighting, Michael Lincoln; sound, Rob Gould; production stage manager, Tiffany N. Thetard. Artistic director, Curt Dempster. Opened March 3, 2003. Reviewed March 2. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Lily - Cynthia Nixon Janey - Cecilia deWolf Gisli - Evan Handler Matthew - David Thornton Artie - Tom Mardirosian Frank - Jim Fyfe

More Legit

  • By the Way Meet Vera Stark

    Off Broadway Review: 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' by Lynn Nottage

    After writing two harrowing Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, “Sweat” and “Ruined,” Lynn Nottage is entitled to have a little fun. But while this revival of her new play, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” walks and talks like a screwball comedy, it has a real brain in its head. Before we get too serious, let’s meet [...]

  • Merrily We Roll AlongRoundabout Theatre CompanyMERRILY

    Off Broadway Review: 'Merrily We Roll Along'

    Like the optimistic youths at the end — or is it the beginning? — of “Merrily We Roll Along,” creatives keep going back to this problematic Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical, re-imagining the show in the hope that the end results will be different this time around. They’re not. But disappointments are often off-set by new [...]

  • Hamilton West End Production.

    'Hamilton' Panic Over Mistaken Reports of Gunfire Injures Three in San Francisco

    Three people were injured after mistaken reports of an active shooter at a San Francisco production of “Hamilton” caused attendees to flee the theater. CNN reported that a woman experienced a medical emergency — later determined to be a heart attack — during a scene in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play wherein Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is shot on [...]

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

  • Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    With an HBO documentary that places strong allegations of abuse against Michael Jackson premiering in two weeks, the late singer’s estate announced Thursday that it’s canceling a scheduled Chicago test run of a jukebox musical about him. The estate and its producing partner in the musical, Columbia Live Stage, said that they’re setting their sights on going [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content