You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

God’s Ear

Jenny Schwartz's "God's Ear" completes an accidental trilogy of recent Off Broadway plays that masterfully use language without ever trusting it to tell the truth.

Mel - Christina Kirk Ted - Gibson Frazier Lanie - Monique Vukovic The Tooth Fairy - Judith Greentree Guy - Raymond McAnally Flight Attendant, G.I. Joe - Matthew Montelongo Lenora - Annie McNamara

Jenny Schwartz’s “God’s Ear” completes an accidental trilogy of recent Off Broadway plays that masterfully use language without ever trusting it to tell the truth. Last October, the office workers in Adam Bock’s “The Thugs” made endless small talk to avoid discussing the brutal violence in their building, and in November, Anne Washburn’s “The Internationalist” evoked the loneliness of miscommunication by sending an American businessman to a country where everyone speaks gibberish. “God’s Ear,” produced by New Georges and borrowing creatives from the Bock and Washburn productions, demonstrates how cliches let us skate across the surface of personal tragedy.

Schwartz’s play centers on a broken family that spews meaningless phrases instead of saying the words that might force them to feel as they try to avoid dealing with the death of a child and the subsequent collapse of their lives.

Though less polished than “The Thugs” or “The Internationalist,” both play and production captivate by asking us to listen in an unusual way. Characters deliver a few lines of real information and then skitter away from it with long, repetitive speeches about nothing in particular. But eventually, the phrases they repeat or the emotions they use to say them take a definite shape. Even without moment-to-moment clarity, a larger sense of grief can be easily understood.

Consider Ted (Gibson Frazier). His son drowns; he becomes estranged from his wife Mel (Christina Kirk); he escapes into business travel, which makes him a stranger to his young daughter Lanie (Monique Vukovic); he keeps meeting other people who have had children who died; and he eventually starts an affair.

It takes most of the play to learn that information, but the impact of what’s happening to Ted is clear in an early speech to a flight attendant. “I just want my son to grow up and be happy,” he says. “I just want my son to grow old and be safe.” Gibson chants the standard list of parental dreams like he wants the ideas to protect him. By the time he says stranger things — “I just want my son to defy the laws of nature” — there’s a palpable desperation in his small talk.

Schwartz enhances her surreal words by placing them in a world that fuses every coping method in the family. Ted has an affair with Lenora (Annie McNamara), but she can look up from their illicit kisses and speak directly to Mel. Little Lanie seeks advice from the Tooth Fairy (Judith Greentree) or G.I. Joe (Matthew Montelongo), but the pair have wisdom for the adults, too.

Director Anne Kauffman (“The Thugs”) unites these elements with a subdued, gentle tone. Movement tends to be slow and fluid, and the actors, though emotionally present, all have a tranquil energy. There’s often a sense of floating through a dream.

Design supports that notion as well. The warm blue washes of Tyler Micoleau’s lighting and the puzzle box surprises of Kris Stone’s simple set — a blue floor full of trap doors — remind us we’re in an unreal limbo.

The dream state is an apt metaphor for how we can float above our lives after great loss. It also makes the play’s effluvia easier to accept. Yes, “God’s Ear” would be sharper if Schwartz shortened her most rambling speeches or if Michael Friedman’s unmemorable incidental songs were excised, but every dream has its random pieces.

Ultimately, the most satisfying irony is that the play transforms familiar strategies for enduring grief into theatrical fantasies. Just like Joan Didion in “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Schwartz knows that unbearable news can make us turn our daily lives into distracting flights of fancy.

God's Ear

East 13th Street Theater; 99 seats; $25 top

Production: A New Georges presentation of a play with music in one act by Jenny Schwartz. Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, with additional lyrics by Schwartz. Directed by Anne Kauffman.

Creative: Sets, Kris Stone; costumes, Olivera Gajic; lighting, Tyler Micoleau; sound, Leah Gelpe; dramaturg, Sarah Stern; props, Lillian Vince; production stage manager, Megan Schwarz. Opened May 7, 2007. Reviewed May 9. Running time: 1 HOUR, 35 MIN.

Cast: Mel - Christina Kirk Ted - Gibson Frazier Lanie - Monique Vukovic The Tooth Fairy - Judith Greentree Guy - Raymond McAnally Flight Attendant, G.I. Joe - Matthew Montelongo Lenora - Annie McNamara

More Legit

  • Richard E Grant Everybody's Talking About

    Richard E. Grant to Play Former Drag Queen in 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'

    Oscar-nominated actor Richard E. Grant will portray a former drag queen and mentor in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” the movie adaptation of the British stage musical. “Catastrophe” co-creator and star Sharon Horgan and “Happy Valley” star Sarah Lancashire have also joined the film. Max Harwood will play the titular role of Jamie, a role inspired [...]

  • The Secret Life of Bees review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Secret Life of Bees'

    There’s a sweet sense of sisterhood that’s simply divine in “The Secret Life of Bees,” the heartwarming new musical at the Atlantic Theater Company based on Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling 2002 coming-of-age novel, set in South Carolina in 1964 amid Civil Rights struggles. (A 2008 film adaptation starred Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah.) The feeling [...]

  • 10 Comics to Watch

    Variety Announces 10 Comics to Watch for 2019

    Variety has chosen its 10 Comics to Watch for 2019. The honorees will be profiled in the July 18 issue of Variety and at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal at a cocktail party on Thursday, July 25, followed by a panel and showcase on Friday, July 26. The events are sponsored by Cohen & Gardner LLP. The [...]

  • Vanessa Hudgens So You Think You

    Vanessa Hudgens, Hailey Kilgore to Star in Reading of 'The Notebook' Musical

    Vanessa Hudgens and Tony-nominee Hailey Kilgore are joining an upcoming reading of Ingrid Michaelson’s stage adaptation of “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks. Tony nominee Michael Greif is set to direct the reading, which will open June 23 at Vassar College’s Martel Theater as part of their Powerhouse Theater season. Kilgore will star as the younger [...]

  • Moulin Rouge director Alex Timbers

    'Beetlejuice,' 'Moulin Rouge!' Director Alex Timbers on Creating Worlds on Broadway

    In the past year, Alex Timbers has directed the Tony-nominated “Beetlejuice” and the stage adaptation of “Moulin Rouge!” (which begins previews June 28 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre). Here, he reflects on his most recent projects and the challenges of bringing two iconic movie musicals to Broadway within a year.  Both your musicals live in [...]

  • Actor Anthony Ramos Signs With Republic

    Actor Anthony Ramos Signs With Republic Records (EXCLUSIVE)

    Singer-songwriter and actor Anthony Ramos, known for his roles in “Hamilton” and “A Star Is Born,” has signed with Republic Records, the company announced today. Ramos will release his forthcoming debut album later this year, with new music expected this summer. Footage from the signing aired on his YouTube series today. “Anthony is a true [...]

  • Much Ado About Nothing review

    Shakespeare in the Park Review: Danielle Brooks in 'Much Ado About Nothing'

    The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park productions can be provocative, irritating, enlightening or maddening, but they are always fun. In his new staging of “Much Ado About Nothing” with a cast led by Danielle Brooks, director Kenny Leon (“A Raisin in the Sun,” “American Son”) delivers the fun in a slaphappy, dance-crazy version [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content