Monday, March 2, 2015

Theater Review Reverberation -- Hartford Stage

Luke Macfarlane and Aya Cash Photos by T. Charles Erickson
A Little Too Up Close and Personal with Characters We Don’t Know
By Lauren Yarger
It’s about friendship and love. It’s about loss and taking chances. And it’s about some other things I’m not so sure about.

Most of all, the world premiere of Matthew Lopez’ Reverberation at Hartford Stage was just not interesting to me. Now before you leap to the conclusion that the only reason I wouldn’t like this play is because of an extended opening scene involving nudity and gay sex (which, yes, like most sex scenes --  homosexual or not -- are unnecessary on stage), let me say that isn’t the reason. I’m actually a fan of Lopez, a frequent collaborator at Hartford Stage (he participated in the Brand:NEW series, served as the 2013-14 Aetna New Voices Fellow and has had productions of Somewhere and The Whipping Man – a fresh and intensely interesting piece – here).

The problem for me was that at 20 minutes in, I still had no real idea of who these people were or why I was being asked to feel as though I were sitting in a chair in the cluttered Astoria, Queens apartment designed by Andromache Chalfant watching them – Director Maxwell Wiliams creates a kind of voyeur feeling by breaking down the fourth wall. Near the end of the two and half hours (with intermission) I still hadn’t engaged with the strange characters and the plot took such a bizzare turn that my notes say, “please make this stop.”

That first sexual encounter is with the apartment’s occupant, Jonathan (Luke Macfarlane of TV’s “Brothers and Sisters”), a reclusive greeting card illustrator who lost his longtime partner in a violent anti-gay attack. His only contact with the outside world is with men he hooks up with for sex through the gay social networking site “Grindr.”

His current hookup, Wes (Carl Lundstedt), has just experienced the best sex of his life  (and so have we, unfortunately) and he is interested in more. Right now, any time. He can’t keep his hands off Jonathan. It might go a bit deeper than just this moment, however. Wes lives in the neighborhood and has had his eye on Jonathan for a while, it seems. The idea of anything more serious than a one-night stand turns Jonathan off, however, and he sends Wes on his way.

Enter Claire (Aya Cash, star of the sitcom “You’re the Worst”). She has just moved into the loft upstairs that Jonathan and his former lover occupied before the tragedy (this second story is visible above Jonathan’s apartment and realistically connected via hallway and stairs). She offers sex to her new neighbor before discovering his orientation, then rather aggressively offers him friendship. He is reluctant at first, but Claire’s flighty, fun-loving and caring personality win him over and the two become best friends, filling needs that aren’t met through their other relationships.

When Jonathan is overwhelmed with grief and crying and screaming in the night, he has only to bang on the ceiling and Claire comes downstairs to get into bed with him so he can spoon her and stroke her hair the way he did with his dead lover. When Claire is getting ready for a date, Jonathan is there to help her zip up her dress and to soothe her later when it doesn’t go well with a jerk who through her out of his car when she wouldn’t put out.

The relationship suffers complications, however, when plans for a vacation together are jeopardized. Claire might have found “Mr. Right” and Wes returns to the mix saying he loves Jonathan and asking to rekindle their relationship. Jonathan just might be in ove with wes after their one too….

The play suffers complications (besides having a bunch of uninteresting characters we can’t really relate to) when Lopez introduces bizarre, psychological or otherworldly twists (though the otherworldly feeling is played up by Lighting Designer Matthew Richards with shadows flitting throughout.)

Under the direction of Williams, the three actors give solid performances – Cash has most of the humorous moments and she makes us think Claire might have some interesting qualities hidden in there somewhere. It’s not enough, unfortunately, to convince us it has been worth the time we have spent being voyeurs into her dealings with odd Jonathan or into his encounters with the one-dimensional Wes.

It’s one of those plays that leaves you wondering what the heck it was about. The audience (which was not full on opening night) was very quiet on the way out of the theater – usually a sign that people haven’t understood what they have seen and are afraid to ask. Or maybe they just didn’t care.

I guess I was hoping for more after so enjoying the rich, fully developed characters of The Whipping Man. We wish Lopez the best on his next project, an adaptation of Javier Marías’ trilogy, Your Face Tomorrow, for the big screen.

Reverberation runs through March 15 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Matinees Sunday and select Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 pm. Tickets $20-$85  (860) 527-5151;

Note: The theater recommends this one for ages 18+ because of the adult themes, language, nudity, violence 

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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