Have You Seen Steve Steven?
nytheatre.com review by Anthony C.E. Nelson
September 20, 2007
13P, the admirable theatre company dedicated to producing new works by its stable of writers, is currently presenting a top-notch production of an almost great play by Ann Marie Healy. Healy's offbeat play, Have You Seen Steve Steven? is A Delicate Balance for the Information Age, a sensitive, frightening, and hilarious portrait of the terrors of aging and the barriers we experience in communication. Unfortunately, Healy has plotted the play in such a way that events occur for no other reason than that they need to for the metaphor of the play to make sense.
The action takes place in a "McMansion in the Midwest," somewhere in Minnesota or North Dakota judging from the accents and the concern with snow. The Clarkson family is preparing for the arrival of their oldest friends, the Dudleys. Teenager Kathleen can't actually remember the Dudleys, but her parents assure her that she spent hours playing in the yard with their son Tommy when they were both small. Kathleen's pleasant but ineffectual parents Mary and Frank rush around preparing the house for the party.
After they both disappear upstairs to take a shower, a creepy visitor arrives. Hank Mountain has just moved into the neighborhood, in the "house with the vaulted ceilings." He's met Kathleen's parents, and clearly has more going on than is immediately apparent. He promises to pop back in later, and as he leaves, he says, "You seem to have lost your little dog there," pointing at nothing. This imaginary dog will become important later, after the Dudleys arrive with the now-handsome Tommy and their new exchange student, a traumatized girl named Anlor. The parents make lame small talk, and encourage the kids to "play video-games" despite Kathleen's insistence that she doesn't play any video games.
The return of Hank, this time with the creepy yet grandmotherly Vera, who comes bearing over-cooked brownie bars, throws the play into chaos as communication gradually breaks down. The technical lingo that the parents throw around increasingly desperately shows their terror at a world that is passing them by, and eventually communication between the old and the young becomes completely impossible. Kathleen and Tommy see their parents lose their ability to understand the modern world, and take their place alone as adults, in control of their own destiny but alone.
At least that's what I think happens. It's hard to tell, because as soon as Hank and Vera re-enter, events start to occur for no discernible reason. Its obvious Hank and Vera are meant to serve as agents of change, but why and how is never clear.
That being said, the cast is top-notch from top to bottom, particularly Alissa Ford and Tom Riis Farrell as the oblivious Clarkson parents and Jocelyn Kuritsky as the damaged, near-feral Anlor. Matt Maher and Carol Rosenfeld also deserve praise for imbuing the inscrutable Hank and Vera with such vigor. Director Anne Kauffman has done a wonderful job shaping what can be shaped in Healy's difficult script. There is a moment early on when Mary instructs daughter Kathleen to choose a secret, and Kauffman has positioned actress Stephanie Wright Thompson at the front of the stage, perfectly placed for us to watch her face as she thinks of and chooses a secret. It's a wonderful little moment when director and actress work together to help us see what's going in a character's head, and typical of the sensitive job Kauffman has done. Sue Rees also deserves praise for a lovely set. Emily Rebholz's costumes perfectly evoke suburban banality.
Even though the show doesn't actually make any sense, I loved it anyway, although my opinion was not necessarily shared by my companion, for one. Your enjoyment of it will likely depend on your tolerance for not knowing why things are happening.