By Tulis McCall
Well isn’t this a pickle? How to take an intriguing idea and beat it into submission with a pen? Nick Jones’ play Verité At Lincoln Center’s beautiful Claire Tow Theater does just that.
Jo Darum (Anna Camp) lives in with her husband Josh (Danny Wolohan) and son Lincoln (Oliver Holllman) in an apartment in her sister in law’s house. The sister-in-law, Liz (Jeanine Serrales) is the manager at Bracelet Palace. Josh drives a bus at Newark Airport. Jo has been a stay at home mother and has slao spent several years working on a book about dragons and dwarves, Dragonscape. The book is going nowhere until Jo is called in to a publishers office where she meets two squirrely dudes, Andreas (Matt McGrath) and Sven (Robert Sella) who one supposes are Norwegian (but whose accents wander). These gents love Jo’s style and voice, but don’t want her book. Instead they want her to write a memoir that has verité.
Jo takes one look at her life and comes up with zilch. They counter offer: …what if we made your life interesting? They don’t say how and they don’t say when, but they do offer a 50k advance. The duo creep Jo out, but Josh is excited at the thought of finally having money enough to get out of Dodge, and the frayed edges of his eagerness show the stress in their marriage. They decide to take a vacation in Myrtle Beach (using what money…?) but at the last minute Jo runs into an old high school chum (well he SAYS he is) Winston (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). He invites her to a local bar later that night. Jo looks through her yearbook and does not find him so she assumes the publishers sent him. This is her chance to live an authentic adventure and write about it.
Jo sends Josh and Lincoln off and takes herself to the bar. What you think will happen does. When confronted by her sister-in-law she explains that she loves Josh, but THIS is about her “job”. Eventually Winston tells her he has always loved her since high school – where she still does not remember seeing him. Jo records the conversation and responds …it’s overwrought, but that’s fine, I’ll rework the dialogue. She and Winston fly off to Bogota where Jo eagerly awaits his next move. He, however, comes up empty. Jo pleads with him to spice up the story any way he wants – he is after all a character sent to develop a plot line.
When Winston steps off the shelf to become more than a plot line, things go south, swiftly.
The play ends abruptly on the premiere night of Jo’s first project, the movie Dragonscape. The ugly incidents in Bogota are dismissed, and Jo and Josh are ready to leave the attic apartment for good. All is swell until Sven and Andreas call to resurrect the memoir with just a teensie re-write that may threaten Jo’s family. Whomp.
I loved the idea of a character whose life is turned upside down. Who do you trust when you can’t trust anyone? But this story doubles back on itself so many times it makes your head spin. As well, it is seriously overwritten. Jones seems to write by the “more is more” philosophy, which is surprising as he is a writer and co-producer of Orange Is The New Black. Where one word would do, he writes pages. And the pages don’t add to the plot, they simply stretch on and on. The characters of Sven and Andreas remain one-dimensional caricatures who may or may not be pulling strings. Jo herself has little substance, and the choices she makes fall into the reaction category, not action. Finally, there is no answer to the question of who Winston really was – and this is a serious omission because most of the story leans on his presence. This is compounded by Moss-Bachrach’s performance, which was sluggish enough to suggest he was not certain of his lines. von Stuelpnagel’s direction does little to pull the many stray threads together.
On the plus side, Wolohan and Serralles give excellent performances, as does the young Hollmann who is having a heckuva grand time.
But in the end, this play runs a very long 100 minutes and lacks the exact element on which it is focused – verité.
WITH: Anna Camp (Jo Darum), Oliver Hollmann (Lincoln Darum), Matt McGrath (Andreas Venier), Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Winston), Robert Sella (Sven Kandetty), Jeanine Serralles (Liz Darum) and Danny Wolohan (Josh Darum).
Sets by Andrew Boyce; costumes by Paloma Young; lighting by Matthew Richards; sound by Stowe Nelson; music by Ryan Rumery; stage manager, Amanda Michaels; general manager, Jessica Niebanck; production manager, Paul Smithyman. An LCT3 production, presented by Lincoln Center Theater, André Bishop, producing artistic director; Adam Siegel, managing director; Paige Evans, artistic director/LCT3. At Lincoln Center, Claire Tow Theater, 150 West 65 Street, 212-239-6200, lct.org/lct3. Through March 15. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.