Saturday, January 14, 2017

Review: Crisis in Parenthood

By Michael Block 

Married life can be bliss. And then a baby enters the equation. In Lawrence Dial's DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA, two city-dwelling couples are each two kids deep, each with their own set of marital woes. When a playground accident causes a broken limb, the individuals are equally shaken and begin to question everything about their spouse and themselves.
Virtually reminiscent of a mild version of God of Carnage, DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA by Lawrence Dial is a play about thirtysomethings in crisis. Danny and Kris are in a play date. Well, their kids are on a play date. As their children run around, they give each other their own personal run around, spilling some intimate details of their lives. Back at home, Danny's wife Donna is on the verge of a big promotion that will keep Danny in the stay at home role while Kris' wife Veronica is having issue upon issue at her inherited pizza shop. After Danny and Donna's oldest daughter breaks her arm after falling out of a tree, personal crisis ensues. Dial's script explores a narrative that is poignant. Even if you're not in that stage of life, there's something of substance within the narrative. The characters that Dial has written are clear and the relationships are honest. But in world of caring about these individuals, it's quite difficult. There were certainly redeeming qualities in each but they lived so deep within their own bubbles that their conversations come off as whiny.
photo by Steve Fallon
What makes DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA interesting to the eye is the exploratory staging by Jeff Wise. Marrying a realistic style with a heightened theatricality, Wise's vision brought variety but lacked consistency. Bouncing in and out caused clarity and importance to falter. With the way Dial crafted his piece, Wise was given the gift of challenges but without a consistent vocabulary in staging, the message was muddled. Wise needed to either allow the dual scenes to be staged around one another or go full Cock and play theatrical games in every single scene. No matter the direction, the tempo needed to be notched up significantly. Using the two-sided seating arrangement in a proscenium house was a strong choice. It gave a black box feel without being in an actual black box. That being said, the intimacy was lost. The simplicity of the set from Brittany Vasta allowed the story to take shape. The strong linear feel played a part in every aspect. From the large plush ottoman to the basement of the benches, the rectangular playing space captured the predictability of life. When chaos in the form of toys were thrown into the mix, that's when the characters' lives began to unravel. If you're not one to look up, you missed the best part of Vasta's set. The branch and lantern installation on the ceiling tied the great outdoors into every element of their lives. The lighting design from Drew Florida was sharp but with Wise's staging, some side lighting turned blinding for the crowd. The rain metaphor played heavy in Dial's text. Justin Propper honored this though it was not as atmospheric as it should have been.
By far, Kris was the most complex character in Lawrence Dial's story. With a rich backstory, Kris was the character that you wanted to see shine and overcome her personal adversity. Suzy Jane Hunt took the complexity and found gold. Ben Mehl's Danny was a bit more man child than dad with a plan. Mehl made his Danny feel like he'd fit right in on a live audience sitcom. Kudos should be given for his incredible beat boxing on "Sweet Dreams." As Donna, Rachel Mewbron had a strong, domineering presence despite the character needing a bit more textual support. Liz Wisan was a bit aggressive as Veronica. Wisan tapped into the heart of the dialect which gave her a gruffness and prickly exterior. Veronica is a hardworking woman but Wisan didn't necessarily give us something to grasp onto.
The title is certainly a captivating way to draw an audience. But the reality of this piece is these four individuals are not as slammed together as it seems. It's really all about Danny and Kris and their relationships.  "Play Date" may have been a little more apropos. No matter what, DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA got a little too big for its britches. There's substance within but the execution was all about trying to be grandiose.