A Parallelogram: To Eat a Cookie and Watch Historical Reality Television In the Future. Sounds Fun, Right?
It’s summertime in NYC and my battle with priorities is full on. Summer and sun versus Sunday matinees and theatre. It’s a difficult choice some days, especially with the sun shining and the beach calling my name. How do I plan ahead? So with full knowledge that my schedule of sun and beach fun was not going to allow me to be around for the press dates of Second Stage’s production of Bruce Norris’ A Parallelogram, I jumped at the opportunity to see this intriguing new play before, as I was informed, the show was deemed ‘frozen’. So take this review with a grain of salt, with full upfront knowledge that they were still working on it, making improvements and changes probably up until this upcoming weekend.
I can only say though, that if this show is going to be improved, I’m not sure where they would start. It is, at this stage of the game, a thoroughly engaging and exciting piece of theatre. With ten days before the official opening night, A Parallelogram is in completely solid shape. As directed slickly and concisely by the total pro, Michael Greif (Dear Evan Hansen, War Paint, Next to Normal), this engaging and thrilling new play feels like the perfect mind game. It’s a classic ‘is she or isn’t she’ gaslight affair, and with the perfect pair of actors leading us along, this piece doesn’t take one mis-step.
Celie Keenan-Bolger (Broadway’s The Cherry Orchard, Peter and the Starcatcher) as Bee, the woman in mind at the center of this intersection, and the old lady she meets at the supermarket played effortlessly by Anita Gillette (Broadway’s Chapter Two, Cabaret) are a magnificent force together. Is the story we are seeing Bee’s or is it through the eyes of the Old Lady who, in some ways, appears to be orchestrating and watching some sort of reality television show for her own amusement, as she sits back smoking cigarettes and eating cookies. Who’s to say, but it’s a compelling conundrum we find ourselves in. What exactly are we seeing here?
There are two ways one could look at this story. Through the eyes of her boyfriend, the well meaning and logically minded, Jay, played with an perfect neurotic passion by Stephen Kunken (Broadway’s Enron, Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll) or through the concepts espoused by Dee. It probably will come down to the type of person you are, or like to think of yourself as. Are you more like Jay? Or more like JJ, the hot, sexy latino man, played by the wonderful Juan Castano (ATC’s Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train) that mows his way into their lives? I’m totally on the side of Dee and her counterparts, but I’ll let you all decide who’s side of the fence you are on.
Miraculously designed by Rachel Hauck (ATC’s Animal, The Public’s Tiny Beautiful Things), the set spins and messes with our sense of reality with sharp abruptness and precision. It’s a piece of pure theatrical magic, supported by the talented costume designer, Jeff Mahshie (RTC’s She Loves Me); lighting designer, Kenneth Posner (2ST’s Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, Broadway’s Tuck Everlasting); and sound designer, Matt Tierney (NYTW’s Red Speedo). The look and feel of the piece is as important to the emotional head trip as is any of the aspects, but the true magic, beyond the impeccable performances, is the play itself.
A work of fascinating puzzle-making, playing with our abilities to see beyond our own reality show, and into something else. What would we do, if we knew what was going to happen, but any attempt, we are told, to change the overall outcome is meaningless? Would we sit back and eat a cookie? Or fight hard to make a difference? It’s maddening to imagine what would become of us. But s thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the theatre, even when it is so darn beautiful outside.