By Raphael Badagliacca
The Substance of Bliss is one more world premiere from NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch, a theater with a remarkable record for launching productions that resurface in other venues.
The actors had conveyed their distress so well during the last 90 minutes on stage that I was relieved to see how relaxed they were in the after-show celebration.
The stage itself — a highly designed backyard in constant renovation — the usual excellent creation by set designer Jessica Parks in the intimate confines of this theater — has a larger than usual role in The Substance of Bliss. It stands for everything you can and cannot do. It also represents the passage of time.
Donna (Susan Maris) and Paul (Christopher Daftsios who we also saw in this venue in Swimming at the Ritz) have been married for some time. They have a troubled, grown son. He is conspicuously absent but all too present in their conversation. He dominates their thinking, as does the backyard which they constantly discuss. From their discussion we learn its long history of renovation. They have been fixing it for years.
They can’t fix their son, though. He has mysteriously disappeared again. They wait for him in the backyard, full of imaginings, alternately feeling hopeful and hopeless, alert to the slightest sound, listening for his footfall. And while they wait, they argue, blame, trade vulnerabilities, express desires and disappointments, and plan in excruciating detail the next set of backyard renovations.
Time is the record of things that have happened in the same place, like in a backyard or to the physical bodies and emotional landscape of two people joined in marriage. If any of this sounds familiar, see the play.
The SUBSTANCE of BLISS
By Tony Glazer directed by Evan Bergman; scenic designer, Jessica Parks; lighting designer, Jill Nagle; technical director; Brian P. Snyder; sound designer, Merek Royce Press costume designer, Patricia E. Doherty; stage manager, Jennifer Tardibuono; artistic director, SuzAnne Barabas; executive producer, Gabe Barabas.
With: Christopher Dafstios and Susan Maris.
At NJ Repertory Company (179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ — 732-229-3166; NJRep.org) through February 14. Thursdays & Fridays 8pm; Saturdays 3pm & 8pm; Sundays at 2pm.