Never Swim Alone
nytheatre.com review by Akia Squitieri
August 21, 2006
Never Swim Alone was a hit in the 1999 FringeNYC and returns as an "Alumni" selection in this year's festival line up. Its easy to see why.
Something that is rare in downtown theatre these days, especially the Fringe Festival, is simplicity. Simplicity in this case meaning acting and story telling in its purest form. Never Swim Alone excels in this, focusing on two characters and showing all of their cracks, faults, and nuances in a sharp, clean way.
The play is a dark comedy told in 13 "rounds," a battle between two lifelong friends, Bill and Frank, who are striving, kicking, and scratching for the all-American Dream of the golden ring: the wife, two kids, house with the picket fence and two cars. They also share a dark and tragic secret that always lingers in the background, caused by their competitive spirit then and now.
As they duke it out in the successive rounds, competing in battles of wit, double entendres, and showmanship, their challenges eventually dissolve into childlike one-upmanship until they eventually implode. Rounding out the play is the Referee, who blows her whistle when they get out of line; she chooses who "wins" each round. The "winner" then gets to expound on how wonderful his life is.
Susan Louise O'Connor as the Referee does some remarkably subtle and skillful work, reacting and listening to the two men, acting as arbiter and judge. John Maria (Bill) and Douglas Dickerman (Frank) both offer tour de force performances, playing off each other with sly wit and impeccable timing. They portray interesting and empathetic characters with a delightful combination of playful zest and hard edged mania. These characters could self-destruct or manage to climb out of the pits that they've placed themselves into. The audience is constantly guessing which it will be. [Editor's Note: O'Connor, Maria, and Dickerman were in the original production of Never Swim Alone in FringeNYC '99.]
Writer/director Daniel Maclvor holds back no punches in this production and brilliantly maneuvers a focused cast and wide-eyed look at the expectations, pressures, and pitfalls of American masculinity.