October 28, 2008

Schwartz Center Puts On Alumna's Original Drama

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When a mother tells her daughter that, on the night of her birth, “it was snowing and raining at the exact same time,” it is impossible to believe that Jenny Schwartz ’95, the writer of God’s Ear, was not inspired by the weather of her dear alma mater.
A play originally performed off-off-Broadway, God’s Ear is unlike any other. It seems impossible that a piece of theater could captivate you and make you want to cover your ears at the same time. The Schwartz Center’s production of the work, however, does exactly that.
The play is based around Ted and Mel, a couple that lost their son in an accidental drowning. This tragedy is the source of constant confusion and chaos for the grieving parents; the painful reality of the couple’s lives after the initial shock of the accident is detailed in the play’s production.
The majority of God’s Ears features a jumble of incoherent rambling and repetition; the only time the characters seem to say exactly what they mean is during the opening scene, when Mel, portrayed by guest artist Kelly Mares, updates Ted, played by Schwartz Center residential actor Michael Kaplan, on their son’s condition. She recites a monologue that proves to be one of the only instances of ordinary human communication in the entire play. Expressing sentiments that most parents can probably relate to, she insists — even though the doctors said, “Most children who survive aren’t able to walk or talk” — that “our son isn’t like most children.”
The following scene features Mel and Ted’s young daughter, Lanie, played by Nathalie Berman ’11. Lanie is the quintessential curious child, asking questions about every word uttered from her mother’s mouth. Berman is completely believable as a young child, and her portrayal of Lanie is lovable, though oddly creepy. Her dress is reminiscent of a porcelain doll’s, and the songs she sings are heart-rending and eerie. If Schwartz intended Lanie to be this way, it fits. If this was a touch added by Berman, it was a job well done.
Lanie’s questions get annoying. There is no denying the fact, however, that Mel’s mere voice is 100 times more annoying than Lanie’s questions. Mares’s acting is flawless, but her character, Mel, is just so irritating and unlikable that it is difficult to feel sad for her. Her squeaky, unrelenting voice and neuroticisms become progressively more frustrating. It is plausible, however, that this was Schwartz’s intention. The viewer is supposed to watch the play from a removed perspective and not focus on feeling sorry for the characters.
At one point, Mel asks Ted: “Why does everyone you talk to have a dead son?” The viewers experience this strange truth for themselves, as two strangers Ted Meets in the airport (Amanda Idoko ’10 and Aaron Sprecher ’11) have each, coincidentally, lost a son. Even the Tooth Fairy who resides at the kitchen table (Sarah Robinson ’10), has lost a son. She explains, “You have no idea what it means to be a public figure. I’m not usually this heavy, but I had a baby.”
The excess of Hellen Keller jokes and the popular “dead baby jokes” add to this darkly comic ambiance.
The presence of the Tooth Fairy and G.I. Joe (James Miller ’12), an action figure who comes alive, provide further comic relief to the often tiresome-to-watch Mel and Ted. These two characters, products of Lanie’s imagination but also visible to Mel, are welcome intrusions. At the same time, the Tooth Fairy’s constant presence at the kitchen table and the random introduction of G.I. Joe — as well as a transvestite flight attendent — into the mix, in the middle of the play, are too idiotic. While all of the actors are extremely talented (Robinson’s opera performances are remarkable), the singing throughout the show was another strange and puzzling addition.
The play is full of clichés, such as the Tooth Fairy’s proclamations that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and “hate is a form of love.” Surprisingly, the surplus of hackneyed phrases effectively re-enforces the genuine and original ones. Mel’s line, “This morning I woke up and I didn’t know which one of you was dead or alive” and Ted’s, “I want my tears to role up my face, not down my face,” for instance, strike the audience much more forcefully than if they were not interjected between clichés.
The Schwartz’s production of God’s Ear features a creative plot that, though at times perplexing, is saved by its talented actors. Furthermore — for those people for whom such a heavy subject is unappealing — the audience is supplied with tons of immature humor. For instance: “A fraction is a piece of pie. A call-girl is a piece of ass.” Or another one: “Why did god invent alcohol?”
“So fat women can get laid.”
God’s Ear surely features something for everyone.
God’s Ear is showing at the Schwartz Center through Sunday.