David Hyde Pierce is giving a quietly devastating performance at Playwrights Horizons in “A Life,” Adam Bock’s meditative one-act play about the meaning and implicit value of a human life. In this Playwrights Horizons production, director Anne Kauffman dramatizes the play’s unanswered questions by showing us how futile it is even to ponder these existential questions.
Pierce immediately engages us in the life of his character, Nate Martin, when he delivers a lengthy monologue about a seemingly insignificant man who thinks deep thoughts when he dares to think at all. “The truth is so hard to find and it’s almost impossible to hang onto” is the kind of thing that pops out of his mouth when he’s wondering why his last boyfriend dumped him.
There’s something absurdly endearing about a man who seems unaware of how desperately lonely he is, and who makes disturbing revelations about his life without recognizing the depths of his despair. “I get nervous when it comes to love,” he admits. “I want it, but every time I get it I’m afraid I’m going to disappear.”
Nate is so clueless and Pierce is so moving in the role that you want someone to walk through the door of his dreary apartment, pick him up in their arms and rock him to a lovely dream-filled sleep. Sadly, the people who finally make it through the door have no such comfort to offer.
Bock is scrupulous in the language he uses to reveal Nate’s indecisive character. “He keeps not calling me,” he says about the boyfriend who broke up with him. Brooding on the way he lets his friends dominate their conversations, he wonders: “Maybe it’s because if they talk all the time I don’t have to share anything that’s going on with me.”
When complete strangers arrive to take charge of Nate’s life, you wonder if he regrets not letting real friends get closer to him while he still had the chance. Or if he wishes he could call back some of those friends and lovers he thoughtlessly shut out of his life.
As Nate’s life turns upside down, complete strangers figure in his life — like it or not. Director Kauffman stages those events that intrude on his placid existence with a sense of high drama and implacable finality. For his part, Pierce keeps his distance and lets her do what has to be done. It’s a rewarding collaboration all around.