By Tulis McCall
The Perplexed is a well intentioned play. And this cast does everything they can to make it sing.
The Stahl and the Resnik families are the Montagues and the Capulets of this story. There are no daggers or vials of poisons, and there is no friar to marry anyone in secret. As James describes it, “There’s a low hum of secret fury everywhere you look.”
As a matter of fact this is a very public wedding of Isabelle Stahl (Tess Frazer) and Caleb Resnik (JD Taylor) being held in a palatial apartment on 5th Avenue. The family action happens in the Library that is so enormous it has three nooks, each of which could be considered a studio apartment.
In preparation for the reverse order wedding (reception is now and the wedding is at midnight) the evening is filled with fascinating dialogues. None attach to the story in any substantial way, however. James Arlen (Patrick Breen, delightful) is a writer who has run out of words and would like to lash out at the world, but lacks the wherewithal to do it. He is the observer and the chronicler. Ted Resnik (Greg Edelman) has been through some dark times because of legal choices he made in partnership with Evy years ago. He is weathered and softened. He is also in love with his wife, the annoying Natalie (Ilana Levine) who is so off base that she could be on the spectrum. Joseph is lost and apparently suffering from something resembling Alzheimers. Micah is a young man of good heart, willing to step into the land of risk. Isabelle barely appears, but when she does she reminds you that she is not what she appears to be – young and blonde. She is so much more. Her fiancé Caleb is also hiding skills and foresight.
In addition to the unattached conversations, there are a boat load of devices to force the action in one direction or another. For starters, the wedding officiant, Cyrus Bloom (Eric William Morris) has arrived at the wedding celebration without a script for officiating. As a wedding officiant myself I can tell you that this does not happen. Second, the father of the bride has not written his speech. This may happen, but at least the FOB would have an idea of what he is to say. Joseph Stahl (the marvelous Frank Wood) has nothing. His wife, Evy Arlen-Stahl (Margaret Colin), adds his inabilities to the list of her problems: she is a City Council woman running for speaker, there are two water-main breaks that occur over the evening (requiring a change of costume to demonstrate that her skirt is stained from her visit to the sites – her shoes, however, remain untouched), and she is fending off reactions to her son Micah (Zane Pais) recently experiencing a social media faux pas in the world of gay porn. Evy is a woman who takes it in stride. In spite of all of this, Evy bigger fish to fry, and it takes ages for her to get to the stove. And finally, most of the dialogues are delivered in the presence of other people who are “reading” books nearby and appear not to be hearing what is being said 10 feet away. The exception to this is Breen who eaves drops with great aplomb.
There is a great deal of commotion here, but “there is no There there”. This play is reminiscent of “You Can’t Take It With You” but lacks the connective tissue necessary to make it all work. Another addition to the “You must never blame the actors” list. All of these actors give excellent, nuanced performances. This is a marvelous ensemble that delivers the goods. But the weight of the text that leads nowhere overshadows their best efforts. Ergo it is we the audience who become The Perplexed.
The Perplexed by Richard Greenberg; Director Lynne Meadow.
WITH Patrick Breen, Margaret Colin, Gregg Edelman, Tess Frazer, Anna Itty, Ilana Levine, Eric William Morris, Zane Pais, JD Taylor, and Frank Wood.
The creative team for The Perplexed includes Santo Loquasto (scenic design), Rita Ryack (costume design), Kenneth Posner (lighting design), and Fitz Patton (sound design).
Manhattan Theatre Club, Artistic Director Lynne Meadow, Executive Producer Barry Grove. MTC at New York City Center – Stage I (131 West 55th Street). TICKETS