By Tulis McCall
Invincible, now at 59E59 Theatre as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival, is the kind of production that drives me around the bend. Here are actors working so very hard and doing fine work, but the are impeded by an inadequate script and unimaginative direction. It’s like watching an athlete run up the down escalator over and over again.
Emily (Emily Bowker) and Oliver (Alistair Whatley) have moved to an unspecified location north of London because they can get more bang for their rental buck. They have lived here for a few months and feel dreadfully out of place. They are anachronisms in the flesh. Emily does not believe in legal marriage or in any organization anywhere for any reason. It is her belief that everything and everyone has morphed into one huge conspiracy. The rich are taken care of, but they also invented the student loan system that cripples graduates. There is no difference between the Labor and Conservative parties anymore. People are polluting the earth with every substance known to humans. It is a rigged crap game, and for Emily there is no wiggle room. It is a wonder she is still alive.
Oliver is or was a Civil Servant who now does a bit of work from home. he is searching for meaning and fulfillment. He is a middle of the road guy who believes in compromise and would like to get married. They do have children (is it one or two?), for one thing. As well, marriage would also please his mother who is currently on the way out.
On this night, for no reason that we can see, they have invited neighbors over for, well, who knows. The neighbors are a delightful nightmare. Dawn (Elizabeth Boag- seen previously in many an Ayckbourn play here) wears clothing that would make any sentient beast want to crawl all over her. She oozes sex and sensuality, and gives the impression that she is available for the asking – to anyone except her husband. Alan (Graeme Brookes) is a Postal worker who seems to have a talking disorder. He opens his mouth, and who knows what will tumble out. These two are also entrenched in the very society that Emily condemns, and in addition they have one son away in the Army. In their view he is fighting to protect them all. In Emily’s he is fighting to protect everything that is wrong with the world.
Oh, and Dawn and Alan are the owners of a cat, Invincible (Vince for short) who has made an enormous nuisance of himself in Emily and Oliver’s back yard. Vince makes a habit of tormenting their caged Gerbils and using their furniture as a litter box.
So – Dawn arrives dressed – barely, and the three stand around for quite a long time, doing the usual small talk. There is a small bowl of olives and one of nuts laid out on the white table next to the white couch and white beanbag – a home with children has all white furniture? There is no liquor which is a serious disappointment for Emily, but she knows that her husband will bring beer, so she can tough it out for a few minutes. Soon Alan arrives fresh from a disappointing soccer match. He begins to talk like a race car driver in full throttle. He continues on like this for the duration.
And there you have it. A woman who hates anything that smacks of establishment partnered with a man who believes in Civil Service. A non-stop talker married to a woman who never gets a chance to talk unless it is to strangers. The question comes to mind: why are these people with each other? This question is at the center of the story. It is never answered.
This cast acquits themselves admirably even though they never get to make use of the one piece of furniture on the set. They have to stand while talking for most of the two hours of this play. I realize that the characters are not supposed to be comfortable, but to keep them standing with no respite makes us the audience uncomfortable as well. Even the picking up of toys, the packing of books, and the listening to a baby monitor are all erratic and defy common sense.
At the center of it all, however, Mr. Betts has written a play that tries to be too clever by half and is too long by a long shot. Eventually, we do find out that both these marriages are in trouble, but the path to these discoveries is circuitous and takes so long that by the time we arrive at these facts we are exhausted. We don’t care about these people the way the author intended. These characters remain stereotypes and never become fully formed – with the possible exception of Dawn.
As I said, each of these actors is skilled at their craft and never wavers for an instant. In another play they would have been a pleasure to watch.
WITH Elizabeth Boag , Emily Bowker, Graeme Brookes and Alastair Whatley
Victoria Spearing (production design); Andy Purves (lighting design); David Morgan (costume supervisor and wardrobe master), and Max Pappenheim (sound design). The production stage manager is Sofia Montgomery.
59E59 Theaters (Elysabeth Kleinhans, Founding Artistic Director & President; Peter Tear, Executive Producer; Val Day Artistic Director) is thrilled to host the US premiere of for a limited engagement through Sunday, July 2. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; and Sunday at 3 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets range from $25 -°©‐ $70 ($25 -°©‐ $49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-°©‐4200 or visit www.59e59.org.