The Ridgelea Reports on Theatre

"Oblivion" at Westport Playhouse

By Tom Nissley

It is always a little dangerous to view a world premiere. Things may not hang together perfectly. Some lines may be repeated again when you’ve already caught that point. Or not. The ending may fizzle, or the beginning over-intrigue.

Carly Mensch’s new play, “Oblivion,” which opens the new season at the Westport Playhouse, is like that. On a very interesting set (Neil Patel), which turns out to be the New York apartment in which Pam (Johanna Day) and Dixon (Reg Rogers) live with their daughter Julie (Katie Broad), age 16. Pam is a busy and a successful something at HBO. Dixon was a lawyer but after a kind of nervous collapse he lives and works within the confines of the apartment working on a book. Julie is a typical teen-ager, by which I mean not well integrated with her parents right now, who has a friend from school named Bernard (Aidan Kunze). Bernard is a nerdy, isolated photographer, anxious to please, sort of afraid of himself kid, whom I loved. The others were not so lovable, especially Pam, who at age 46 (she says -- 49 -- Julie says) is a beast of a woman who castrates her husband and is only a control monster to Julie and Bernard. “You are going through menopause!” cries Julie. I think she’s right.

So Mensch has done an interesting job of defining these four characters. That does not add up to writing a great play. What’s the script about? Well, it seems that Julie has been somewhere for the weekend and has lied about where the somewhere is. That triggers paroxysms of control from Pam, who wants to know everything that Julie will not tell her. Repeat that. Repeat that again. Pam is a self-described secularist/atheist. Dixon is a non-practicing Jew. Where Julie has been is to a youth retreat at Bernard’s Chinese-Baptist church, where she has learned to believe in Jesus and pray out loud with Bernard with conviction. It is for Pam an earthquake of defeat as a mother. Where did we go wrong? Etc.

Bernard, in the meantime, is making a movie about Julie. But if you’re by now bored with my description, you are in sync with audience members who left early. There is a sort of quiet resolution at the end of the play, but a disconnect about how we got there. Bernard and Julie on one side, Pam and Dixon on the other, sit and face a wonderful bit of theater-lighting (Japhy Weideman) after Pam has fixed a film that broke apart for videographer Bernard.

“Oblivion,” directed by Mark Brokaw, plays thru September 8. After that it will have some re-writing, or fade into oblivion. Tickets and information at www.westportplayhouse.org or 203-227-4177.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre



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