Review by Kathleen Campion
It is a remarkable thing to create one wholly nuanced character. It is an accomplishment of a different standing to create three of them — striking them fully formed and ready to engage with one another and the audience.
When we meet Di (Olivia Levine) and Viv (Raven Pierson) and Rose (Leslie Erin Roth) as “first years” at University, they are certainly distinct. One is tempted to say, “ Oh, yes, Rose, the flirty one loves the boys [and she does], and Di, the athletic one, is a bit butch [and she is], and Viv is just a touch uptight and judgmental [and she is all of that].”
The affection and tenderness that grows among them, minutes into the first act in early, fleeting
thirty- to ninety-90 exchanges, is astounding in its impact and economy. No special effects — just special writing and acting. One actor faces front, and we “overhear” her end of telling phone calls home to stepdad Charlie. We learn that one of the three cooks, and another fixes things. We see the third housemate evolve quickly as the emotional center of the group. Throughout we see them manage modest changes in their small flat (and in themselves) as the lights dip and refresh on each encounter.
Staged at the Studio Theatre on Theatre Row, in Di and Viv and Rose, the actors do all the set changes in full view. While not an uncommon practice off-Broadway, in this case the moving and fixing, and rearranging of props and furniture seem a graceful metaphor for the nesting and growing the characters themselves are doing, right before our eyes.
We see each of them play her public self; then we glimpse the vulnerable girl inside. Playwright Amelia Bullmore doesn’t just show us the embrace of friendship, of love; she insists we feel what they feel. There is something special here linked to the way the women touch one another. There is the casual drop of arms over shoulders. There is the moment the girls are lost to giddy laughter as they find themselves levered too tightly into the new overstuffed chair. And, there is the breathless tenderness of the two who were not raped enveloping the other with their bodies as they sleep.
Di and Viv and Rose are unlikely fellow-travelers, as many of us were when randomly thrust into the “uni” suite with all our adolescent baggage. We were expected to deal — and we all did, some better than others. Given that premise, I was expecting a frothier evening, a comedy. I did laugh, a lot. But I also annoyed the man in front of me as I fumbled for tissues when the girls made me weep.
Written in 2010, Di and Viv and Rose has been workshopped and produced to solid reviews in the UK and workshopped here with the current cast. It would be difficult to choose one performance as better than the others, since each of these young actors is both fully engaged in the character she plays, and in the relationship with the two others. They are stunningly real and consistently in the moment. You leave the theater, leaving behind three women you “know.”
As the play draws to a close, and the playwright is pulling it all together, she underscores the import of our rites of passage with the artful casualness that defines her prose. One of the women has died, and another eulogizes her, using much the same speech she had been preparing for a wedding toast. She stands alone on the stage:
“It turns out that what you need to say at someone’s funeral isn’t so different from what you want to say at their wedding.”
She goes on to speak to her loss:
“…[W]e were still young enough …[when we met]…to say we grew up together. I used to think growing up together meant you just happened to shoot upwards alongside certain people but now I think the way you shoot up, the shape you shoot up in — is contingent on a few people shooting up with you. You grow up together in the sense that if something bad or sad or good happens to one of you, it almost happens to the other.
If you’re lucky enough to have a friend you grew up with in this way, you believe the arrangement is for life. And when they pull out …what you feel is sadder than I knew was possible.”
It’s a very big play on a very short run in a very small house. If you can get a ticket, I can promise you two hours of fresh, original theater in Di and Viv and Rose.
Di and Viv and Rose — Written by Amelia Bullmore; directed by Leta Tremblay
WITH: Olivia Levine (Di), Raven Pierson (Viv), Leslie Erin Roth (Rose).
Sets, props and lighting by Reilly Horan, costumes by Alice Wang, sound by Beth Lake. Produced by Allison Ciuci at the Studio Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, Manhattan.
A short run through June 19th. Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
There is a warning on the Telecharge site, and in the program, and in an announcement before the performance begins — a warning that the play may not be appropriate for all audiences because it depicts a character grappling with the aftermath of a rape. We don’t usually comment on announcements but I’m making an exception here.
In a nation where someone is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds it is far too common an event to be so precious about it in the disclaimer department.